The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

RSI Awareness Day: the Power of Fidgeting

Today, the only day that isn't repeated every year, is International RSI Awareness Day. I was actually reminded about it this year when I was watching Horizon on TV last night about exercise - The Truth About Exercise. One of the areas of exercise they were looking at was NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) - that's the exercise we get just from moving about doing everyday tasks. They did an experiment in which three people wore "fidget pants" that measured their level of movement during a day. Unsurprisingly, the deskbound subjects moved very little indeed through the day and had long patches of inactivity. It made me wonder how I'd fare on the same measure - I'm such a fidget pants, I think I'd be off the scale!

So how does this relate to RSI? Well, in the programme, sedentary lifestyles were being connected with obesity problems, but for those who spend hours sitting at a desk, hunched over a computer, RSI and related health problems are an equally big issue. Many of the aches and pains associated with computer use, not just in the hands, but back, shoulders and neck too, come not only from the repeated small movements associated with typing or using a mouse, but from holding your body in a fixed tense position for prolonged periods. One of the most important pieces of advice I think when it comes to avoiding RSI is to keep moving; to keep your body as relaxed and loose as possible and to take regular breaks.

For me, one of the biggest benefits to working freelance from home is that I can fidget to my heart's content! I tend to work in quite small bursts, taking lots of breaks in-between times. In an average day, I might leave my desk to make tea (at least six times a day!), to pick up the post when I hear it come through the front door, to go to the loo, to put on a load of washing, turn the radio on/off, stop for lunch, nip out to the supermarket, get an extra cardi from the bedroom, go and water my plants, put the dinner on, nip out to the Post Office ... These aren't distractions, I see them as valuable thinking time and when I get back to my desk, I've often formulated the wording of my next bit of writing or worked out how to solve a particular problem. Most importantly though, they stop me getting stuck into awkward, unhealthy postures at my desk. So here's a few tips for adding some fidget into your working day:
  • Get up from your desk and walk about at least once every hour: go to the loo, make a cup of tea, or just go and look out the window.
  • Take a mini-break at least every 15 minutes. This doesn't mean you have to interrupt your work, but just take the chance to sit back in your chair, take your hands away from the mouse and keyboard and look away from your screen (focusing on something in the middle distance is meant to be good for avoiding eye strain).
  • Always sit back in your chair and take your hands off your keyboard/mouse when you're reading or thinking. Maximise windows (such as for emails) so that you can read more without having to scroll down.
  • Build in non-computer tasks which give your body a break and let you do different movements. Write things on paper occasionally instead of on screen. Or print something out to read or refer to so that you're looking down instead of up and giving your eyes a rest.
  • Sit somewhere else occasionally. I have an exercise ball that I sometimes use for a couple of hours at my desk, just for a change, or if I have something lengthy to read on paper, I sometimes take it and sit somewhere away from my desk for a while.

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