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Workplace Ergonomics Is About More Than Physical Health

We all know that good ergonomics are essential to our body’s physical health, but they also have an impact on our emotional and mental health, too. 

Our physical health, mental health, and work setup are a lot more related than you might think. In an interview, Dr. Scott Bautch, American Chiropractic Association media spokesperson, explains how not moving throughout the day not only takes a toll on our physical health, but on our mental health as well. 

“Our body really craves a certain amount of movement every day,” Bautch says. “And when it’s not moving, it defaults to thinking that something’s wrong in the world. As you move, your brain feels safer.”

Identifying the issues

According to Dr. Bautch, ergonomics is a two-pronged issue. There’s human ergonomics, which is how the human interacts with the workspace, and there’s the work ergonomics, which means making the workspace as friendly to the body as possible to minimize stress. 

“When you work there’s a certain amount of trauma,” Bautch says, and symptoms develop when you don’t give your body enough time to recover. “And so, if we can get the workstation as friendly as possible, that shortens up the recovery time. And then if the human then can add some movement and stretches, that also shortens up the recovery time.”

Amidst so much going on in the world, it can be easy to overlook the emotional toll of not moving throughout the day, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic hit and created the need for widespread lockdowns.

Expert tips 

Simply cutting commuting out of the day can actually cut down on a person’s daily activity. Whereas they might once have gotten up and walked to the car or public transport, or walked to the office or taken a walk midday to get lunch, now they spend almost all of their time inside their own homes. In quarantine, it’s easy to slip into habits like staying up too late, then waking up five minutes before starting work, and forgetting to take breaks. 

Bautch notes that this can be especially difficult for people who already struggle with activity levels and loneliness. “The lockdown has probably had more of an effect on their emotional part than it has on the physical part,” he says.

So how should people reorient their workstations, whether at home or at an office, to be more ergonomic and relieve stress on the body? One thing to do is invest in an ergonomic chair that helps position the body in the ideal stance for working. 

“You want to sit with your feet flat on the floor. You want your knees to be just a little bit higher than your hips, and then you want the desk surface where your keyboard is, that your elbows are against your side. Your elbows are either at 90 degrees or 130 degrees in that range. You want your wrists just slightly extended 10 to 15 degrees, and then your chin is going to be right in the middle of the monitor,” Bautch says. In order to achieve this, you need a chair that’s adjustable to your exact size, with armrests that don’t inhibit your movement, a waterfall front on the seat that doesn’t put pressure on your legs, and good lumbar support.  

The other thing to do is to make sure you’re moving enough throughout the day. If you have no other health conditions, according to Bautch, you should only spend about 20 percent of the day sitting. 

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