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Is Your Workstation Harming You?

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woman sitting at her workstation

Is your workspace dirty, disorganized, and/or throwing your posture out of whack? For a fresh start, take these three key steps. 

1. Disinfect.

When’s the last time you wiped down your keyboard, desk, or phone (the same items that you may have touched immediately before eating your sandwich at lunch)? It's a good idea to do this at least once a day and set a reminder if you need help remembering.

Keep in mind: It's not just your desk that's the problem—it's also the germs you pick up elsewhere and bring back to your desk. After swabbing five commonly touched surfaces in office buildings in three cities, researchers found that phones and chairs were the most contaminated surfaces. Also on the yuck list? Keyboards, computer mice, and desks.

Not only are there lots of germs in an office, but they spread fast. In another study, researchers planted a cold virus-like bacteria onto an office worker’s hands, and after just four hours, found that more than half of swabbed surfaces and a quarter of the people in the office were contaminated with the bacteria. Before you get too grossed out, the researchers found that taking the simple steps of wiping down communal areas and personal workspaces, keeping hand sanitizer and tissues on hand (and actually using them), and washing hands after using the bathroom and before eating your food had a big impact on the spread of germs. 

2. Evaluate your ergonomics.

Poor posture could lead to aches and pains (gotta keep that Advil in your desk drawer!), not to mention other health issues like disc problems or a rounded spine. So take some time to see whether you're sitting correctly by following these tips from Alice Holland, DPT, director of Stride Strong Physical Therapy in Portland, Oregon.

  • Think about your tripod. "When you're sitting in your chair, you have three points of contact: your two butt bones and your pubic bone. Be conscious about this tripod and create even pressure among all three points," Holland says. You don't want to lean forward or backward.

 

  • Keep it 90/90/90. The angles where your thighs meet your back, your knees bend, and your feet meet your ankles should all be 90 degrees. This might involve adjusting your chair or using a footrest so your feet are sitting flat (no leg crossing).

 

  • Use a lumbar pillow. Put this behind your lower back for support and to discourage yourself from slouching. Find a size and style that suits your body.

 

  • Adjust your monitor/keyboard/mouse. When you look straight ahead, you should be staring at either the middle or the top third of your monitor. When typing or using a mouse, you should not have to reach forward and your hands should be angled down from your wrist, not up. You could even buy a tray that attaches underneath the desk and can be pulled out.

 

  • Consider a sit-to-stand desk. Stand for some portion of the day. If you can't get a sit-to-stand desk, try to get up at least once per hour to stretch and move around. "We're not meant to be furniture," Holland says.

 

3. De-clutter.

Does mess cause stress? In one scientific study, women were tasked with describing their homes; the ones who indicated their homes were cluttered had cortisol levels (that's the stress hormone) that were associated with chronic stress and adverse health outcomes. So why not keep your workspace tidy?

After all, it may keep distractions to a minimum and help you be more productive because you won't have to spend 10 minutes searching for your stapler. If organizing as you go isn't possible, take a few minutes at the end of each day or week to put things in their proper place, and throw away or recycle stuff you no longer need.

Find other great health and wellness stories at RealSimple.com/Strive