Give Your Body a Break on the Job

SAN MATEO (05/08/2000) - With all the demands you put on your mind -- assignments, appointments, advancing your skills -- it's easy to forget about your body. But some simple practices can help you relieve physical stress during the workday.

With instances of carpal tunnel syndrome, back problems, and other ailments on the rise among IT professionals, you may benefit from some experts' tips to help keep you humming along not only mentally but physically.

1. Watch your posture

According to research from the University of California Ergonomics Program, you should keep your body in a relaxed yet upright position when sitting. Your backrest should support the inward curve of your lower back. The angle formed by your thighs and hips should be 90 degrees or more. Adjust your chair's height to ensure your feet are firmly on the floor. Use a footrest only if you're unable to adjust your chair to keep your feet on the ground.

2. Protect your neck

Dr. Steven Bautch, chairman at Allied Health of Wisconsin, in Wausau, Wisconsin, recommends that you keep your head and neck in a neutral position as much as possible. Otherwise you may suffer headaches or shoulder problems. Your chin should be lined up with the middle of you screen or with material from which you're keying in data. If you are typing in data from a printed source, avoid turning your neck down and to the side. Helpful aids, such as clips that can be attached to the side of monitors, can keep papers raised and level with your computer screen.

3. Stretch

Sitting at a keyboard or doing repetitive movements such as typing can tighten your muscles and, in the long term, hinder normal motions day to day, says Dr.

Peter Snell, assistant professor of internal medicine and an exercise physiologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Snell recommends that you perform some simple stretching exercises every couple of hours. To ease neck strain, turn your head slowly from side to side. While sitting, stretch your lower back by slowly bending down between your knees and touching the floor. Relieve fingers and hands by opening and closing them 10 times, spreading the fingers apart widely.

4. Fuel better to feel better

Make sure you're drinking enough water, says Tanya High, co-founder of fitness program The Drill and a personal trainer in Sausalito, California. Don't count cola or other caffeinated beverages: "It's hard on the system, and it dehydrates you." For a pick-me-up, try fruit, steamed vegetables, or lean chicken in place of candy. "Candy is going to give you a quick sugar boost, and then you're going to crash from it," she says.

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