Ergonomics for Working Seniors

 

When we get older and spend any considerable amount of time at a desk, particularly working on a computer, it is important to consider the ergonomics of how we and our equipment are positioned.  Ergonomics is a science, or study, of designing equipment and its usage which provides comfort and efficiency.  This is particularly important with repetitive motion activities, such as using the computer which I am working on right now.  Posture and positioning of equipment helps us to avoid the aches and pains of working on computers.  The same holds true if we are drafting or writing or painting or sculpting, or anything which can be done at a desk.  As we get older we have enough aches and pains which are natural in the aging process.  We do not need to sit at a desk, like a raptor in Jurassic Park, adding to the stiffness in our bodies.  Release the raptor inside of you, and let it go chase scientists in the park…

 

Standing Desk

There is an alternative to sitting at our desks for hours at a stretch.  We could, of course, get up and take the pooch for a walk if we work from home.  Or, we can look into various desk designs currently available, which allow us to stand while working on the computer or doing whatever else we may be doing at our desk.  Desks that can be raised and lowered give us the opportunity to sit for a while, ergonomically of course, and then stand for a while.

After a given period of time, when our bodies need a different position, we can raise the desk and stand while we work.  These height-adjustable desks can be either manually or electrically raised and lowered.  Your budget will probably dictate which design, manual or electric, is feasible for you.  Standing while working at a desk allows much better blood flow which, of course, helps our brain functionality.  It also helps fluids in our bodies to keep moving as they are designed to move.

How often have any of us sat for so long that our backsides get a bit numb?  Productivity is reportedly increased, as well as mood, energy level and comfort.  Our bodies are not designed to be sedentary for long periods of time, particularly in a sitting position.  Even while sleeping, most of us move around, perhaps chasing something or another in our dreams…perhaps even looking for our youthful idealism.  As we get older, it is really important to listen to what our bodies are telling us.  If your butt is numb from sitting……listen to it and get off of it.

 

Positioning of Computer Monitor

As you are reading this, what angle are your eyes directed at?  If you are looking down, at perhaps as much as a 45 degree angle, bring your attention to how your neck feels.  Is it curved forward and down?  Enough time sitting with our necks curved forward and down, and we will some day (God forbid) be walking along unable to look at anything other than the tops of our feet.

Our computer monitors should be raised to a height such that we are looking straight ahead at it.  Some reports suggest that the monitor be tilted back 20 degrees.  That would be up to the individual and our level of visual acuity.  We do not have to spend a bunch of dough to raise the height of our computer screen.  If your monitor, as you are reading this, is too low and your neck is at an awkward angle, just go grab a box or some books, and put them under the monitor.  In order to raise my monitor’s height, I use a large plastic container which holds flower seeds for my garden.  I’m a bachelor, and doing things this way does not bother me.  I think you will find adjusting the height of your monitor to be an immediate benefit to how your neck and shoulders feel.

 

Ergonomic Chair

As you are, presumably, sitting and reading this article, how is your posture?  Is your chair so low that your knees are above your waistline?  Is it set so high that only your toes are touching the ground?  Are you slouching forward, or backward, with your lower back in a position which is uncomfortable?  These are but a few of the physical positions which leave us feeling tight in the shoulders and lower back, aching in the hips, stressed in the neck and prone to grumpiness in the attitude.

Yeah, you might think, but I’ve gotten used to it.  Well, Dear Reader, consider that a couple of simple adjustments might have your body feeling better now.  And these adjustments will have you feeling better during the times when you are not even at your desk.

An ergonomically correct chair allows us to keep our knees at a 50 degree angle, and our feet flat on the floor.  If the height of our chair is such that our arms are not at 50 degree angles to our desk, that is another reason to make an adjustment.  It will keep our wrists and forearms from getting uncomfortable.  If need be, and if your budget allows, take some measurements of desk height, and go shopping for a new chair.  We can also make simple modifications without spending a penny.  I took a firm throw pillow off my couch and put it under my behind.  Worked for me, allowing my knees and arms to be at 50 degrees while I type.

 

Ergonomic Mouse

Prolonged use of a computer mouse can, for some people, cause pain and discomfort in the wrist, forearm and fingers.  There are several different computer mouse designs available.  If you are having issues with your mouse-hand, you may want to try a different design.  I would first suggest that you examine the ergonomics of the height of your desk, your chair and your posture.

Vertical Mouse - the user’s hand is in sort of a handshake position, and the control buttons or switches are on the sides.  This one takes some getting used to, and it eliminates most of the twisting of the wrist, which is associated with a traditional mouse.

Trackball Mouse – this one is controlled via a ball on top of the device.  The ball is rolled with a finger or the palm of the hand.  Some commands are difficult to do with precision, such as dragging and dropping, and cutting and pasting.  Those can be learned, however, and if carpal tunnel issues are present, a trackball or roller mouse is a good one to consider.

Pen Mouse – this works like a regular mouse, but it is made to be held like a large pen.  Little to no wrist movement is required for its use.

 

Tennis Ball Exercises When Standing or Sitting

How the heck does a tennis ball come into play while we are working at our desks?  I’m glad you may have asked this question.  Taking off our shoes and rolling a tennis ball under our feet is a great way to keep our energy level up, our muscles relaxed and our feet happy.  Happy feet make happy bodies, since feet carry us through the day.

While it may be socially challenging to do in an office where other people are working, it can be quietly done.  You may want to make certain that your socks do not have holes in them.  Use the tennis ball as a massage tool, slowly but firmly working the muscles and tendons which keep our feet functioning.  Even our heels have muscle in them and they appreciate the attention.

Under the arches and all the way to the outsides of the feet, press down on the tennis ball, slowly but firmly.  If you feel an “ouch” or sort of an electric shock, you have found an area which is in need of massage.  Work the balls of your feet and, while doing so, try to pick up the ball with your toes.  This flexes all sorts of small bones and muscles.  Your feet will thank you!

 

Conclusion

Life goes on, within and without us, as the old song sang.  And as life goes on, it is natural to develop less flexibility and more aches and pains.  It is natural, but it is not necessary to add aggravation to the matter.  Our Mothers were correct in telling us to “Sit up straight!  Use good posture!” when we were kids.  Well, Dear Reader, we are not kids any more, and Mom’s wisdom still holds true.  Try some of the suggestions I’ve made, and be aware of your body as you work.  If you find yourself back in old habits, hunched over in Raptor Mode, just move around a bit and tell that beast once again to go chase Scientists in the Park.  The raptor will be well-fed and your body will be happier when you shut down your work and head outside to play.

 

Written by Aaron Berlin