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How your workstation is making you sick (and how to fix it)

From a sickly heart to sleepless nights, making the wrong choices about your work station can lead to serious medical issues. Here are five essential ways to improve your desk health.

A man stands up from his desk and stretches his back.

(Photo credit: banoa/iStock)

1. Take a stand

The average office worker spends almost six hours planted in front of a desk each day, despite the fact that many scientists agree that sitting is the new smoking.

A 2012 review from the UK revealed that prolonged tush time increased the risk of diabetes, heart disease and even death by up to 150 per cent. Not only that, but research also shows that regular gym sessions aren’t enough to reverse the damage done by a sedentary 9-to-5 job.

What to do:

  • Prevent “sitting disease” by investing in a convertible standing desk.
  • Get up to stretch and stroll for at least five to ten minutes per hour.
  • Don’t take it too far — treadmill desks have been linked to on-the-job injuries and shoddy typing skills!

A close-up of a reclined leather office chair.

(Photo credit: felixmizioznikov/iStock)

2. Sit smart

If you must sit, optimize your work set-up head-to-toe to ensure that the only pain in your neck is that overly chatty co-worker.

First, set your seat back to recline at 15 degrees — sitting up straight like your mom told you puts too much weight on your spine.

Next, level the top of your monitor with your eyes, about an arm’s length away. Then, position your keyboard so your elbows are bent at 90 degrees and your wrists extend straight ahead from your forearms. 

Finally, adjust your chair so your knees are in line with your hips and your feet rest flat on the floor.

What to do:

  • Get creative with stacked books and other sturdy office gear to adjust yourself, your desk and technology to the right height.
  • If you use a laptop, hook it up to a separate keyboard so you can elevate the monitor to eye level.

A laptop and coffee cup sit on top of a table that's beside a window.

(Photo credit: byryo/iStock)

3. Light it right

Believe it or not, how you illuminate your desk in the daytime sets the stage for how sweetly you slumber at night — too little natural light and too much blue screen-based light can cause insomnia.

Windowless workers in a 2014 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suffered from shorter, poorer-quality sleep, while Harvard researchers who shone blue light on volunteers for 6.5 hours a day found that their melatonin (sleep hormone) levels were doubly suppressed compared to green light.

What to do:

  • Park your desk in a room with a view.
  • Consider installing software that warms your screen’s tint as the day progresses to minimize exposure to blue rays in the evening.

A close up of  a woman's hands on a computer mouse and keyboard.

(Photo credit: ljubaphoto/iStock)

4. Mind your mouse

The humble mouse causes many an aching arm for two reasons: it tires out your hand muscles through repetitive small motions and makes you overextend your shoulder while clicking away. 

In fact, the term “mouse shoulder” has been coined to describe the tendon inflammation that strikes avid mousers, leading to burning, aching neck-to-wrist pain.

What to do:

  • Get ambidextrous with your mouse.
  • Keep it beside or slightly in front of your keyboard to reduce one-sided strain and reaching.
  • Move your mouse from your elbow, not your wrist.
  • Use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible to give those mini hand muscles a rest. 

A young woman sits in front of a computer screen. She is noticeably surrounded by office plants.

(Photo credit: Alto Images/Stocksy)

5. Go green

Take a deep breath and ponder this: how you decorate your desk can have a major impact on your stress levels. A 2008 study from Indiana University indicated that people who gazed at dramatic nature photographs instead of more mundane surroundings felt significantly more mentally refreshed. Research also shows that office plants can boost mood and concentration while filtering out indoor air pollutants that cause headache and fatigue.

What to do:

  • Make your desk an oasis. Swap out that nondescript screensaver for nature scenes, and place potted plants around your desktop.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have the real thing outside your office window, don’t forget to gaze into the green distance every now and then!