Basic Tips for Staying Healthy at work
People spend most of their day doing work related tasks (sitting at the computer, manually working in a warehouse, commuting, attending meetings, etc.) Incorporating a few simple exercises into your work day can help your mind and body in so many ways - manage stress, relieve muscle tension, reduce risk of injury and shift perspective. Here are some simple tips to create wellness in your life.
It all starts with your breath. It may sound like nothing, but breathing properly can calm the mind and energize the body. When dealing with day-to-day work stresses, sometimes we forget to take the time to breathe fully. Taking a two to five minute breathing break every hour draws more oxygen into the body to refuel energy. This break can be done sitting at a desk with eyes closed or as part of a quick break outside for some fresh air. The soothing sound of the inhale and exhale relaxes the body and clears the mind, while the increased oxygen flows through your body. Put one hand on your stomach; as you inhale through your nose, your belly should expand outwards. Likewise, as you exhale through your mouth, your belly should draw in. Properly using your diaphragm to aid your breathing will allow the intercostal muscles (between each rib bone) to do the work, thus moving tension away from the neck and shoulders. Be mindful of your breathing throughout the day. Take calm, deep breaths to assist through any stressful situation. For maximum benefit, close your eyes and relax your facial muscles and shoulders. Take time for a proper lunch break. Mentally, leave work at your desk. If possible, take some time outdoors to clear your head and truly breathe fresh air.
One of the most important things you can do for your bodies while at work, whether sitting at a desk in front of a computer or working in a warehouse, is to be mindful of your body – posture, possible strains on neck, shoulders, wrists, back or hips – and try to stretch, strengthen and relax the muscles whenever possible to avoid injury.
Recommended Exercises When Sitting at a Desk
When you set up at your computer before you start your day, try to notice your body and your posture. Take a deep breath, relax and sit comfortably. Notice your hands on your computer – Are your shoulders hunched? Can you relax your fingers on the keyboard? Is your back relaxed and straight? Are your abs engaged or part of the whole body slouch? Are your eyes too close to the monitor? Observe your body and then try to relax and make proper adjustments.
(If you have any concerns with these exercises, or feel discomfort, consult your physician before performing the exercises.)
If sitting at a desk, feet should be flat on the floor with knees over the ankle. Hips should be slightly higher than knees. Engage your abdominals and lift up through your chest.
Computer Screen at Eye Level
Make sure the monitor and keyboard align properly with your body. If you feel strain, adjust the placement to avoid further strain over time.
Stand up and walk around every 20-30 minutes when working at a desk or computer to reactivate the core muscles supporting the lower back.
Lower Back Stretch
Sit tall and place the left arm behind left hip. Gently twist to the left, place the right arm on left hip to deepen the stretch. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat with the right side – right arm behind left hip. Twist to right and place left arm on right hip to deepen stretch.
Sit tall in your chair, cross the right leg over your left thigh so that the ankle rests just above the knee. Adjust to ensure there is a comfortable stretch without pain in the knee or back. Then lean forward slowly to stretch your hip and buttocks. Repeat with the other leg. Over time this stretch can minimize any problems with lower back, sciatica and hips.
While sitting, lift up until your hips are just hovering over the chair, arms out for balance. Hold for 2-3 seconds, stand all the way up and repeat for 16 reps.
Squeeze shoulder blades together, then shrug shoulders half way up toward the ears. Then lower shoulders – still squeezing together shoulder blades.
More Exercises to prevent injury in wrists and arms:
Wrist: Extend arm in front, palm up and grab the fingers with other hand. Gently pull the fingers towards you to stretch the forearm, holding for 20-30 seconds. Repeat on the other hand.
Wrist & Forearm: Press hands together in front of chest, elbows bent and parallel to the floor. Gently bend wrists to the right and left for 10 reps.
Lifting and Stretching
For jobs that involve bending, lifting and carrying, it’s important that workers follow the principles of safe lifting to avoid injury.
Work activities (excluding lifting tasks) should be kept in the ‘general safety zone’ (between the hips and shoulders, close to the body). Lifting tasks should be performed within the “lifting safety zone” (between the knuckles and mid-chest,close to the body). Recovery periods (i.e., muscle-relaxation breaks) can help prevent the accumulation of fatigue and injury to muscles and their associated structures. Try to break up work with frequent, short recovery periods. Even recovery periods as short as a few seconds on a regular basis are helpful.
Maintaining midrange working postures simply means sitting or standing upright and not bending the joints into extreme positions. This can be done by trying to keep the neck, back, arms, and wrists within a range of neutral positions. While working, be comfortable, change positions when necessary, and stretch whenever possible, between tasks.
Guidelines for Safe Lifting
- Take a balanced stance with feet placed shoulder-width apart
- When lifting something from the floor, squat close (bend at the knees) to the load
- Keep backs in a neutral or straight position. Tuck in the chin so the head and neck continues the straight back line
- Grip the object with the whole hand, rather than only the fingers
- Draw the object close to the body, holding the elbows close to the body to keep the load and body weight centered
- Lift by straightening the legs so the legs, not the back muscles, do the work. Tighten stomach muscles to help support the back and maintain a neutral back position while lifting
- Lift smoothly and slowly
- Never twist while lifting. Turn with whole body, feet first. If twisting while lifting seems unavoidable because of the space, try to rearrange the space to accommodate for safe lifting and turning
- If necessary, push rather than pull a load
- To set something down, use the same body mechanics designed for lifting
- Use mechanical assistance for heavy loads
- Take short breaks and stretches throughout the day to alleviate any strain
Lifting from a Seated Position
- Bending from a seated position and then straightening the body places tremendous strain on the back. Also, there is the added danger that an unstable chair could slip from beneath while lifting. Instead, stand and move the chair out of the way. Then squat and stand whenever lifting from the floor