It’s a given today that freelancers working in cafes or from their homes will spend long stretches of their days sitting at a table or desk while working on a laptop computer.
Sitting all day on a laptop can actually present more health challenges than the typical office job, since a laptop can add extra strain to wrists and the neck. In addition, you can work on a laptop anywhere, leading to a variety of potentially harmful long term consequences.
The New York Times lists the following challenges for sedentary freelance work: “It strains the back and causes the muscles to become slack. It slows the processes that metabolize calories, increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.” Lifehacker goes into a bit more detail: “Within five days of changing to a sedentary lifestyle, your body increases plasma triglycerides (fatty molecules), LDL cholesterol (aka bad cholesterol), and insulin resistance.”
While there are many challenges that freelancers face, there are a variety of strategies that can be put into practice immediately in order to improve their health and productivity.
Dock Your Laptop
One of the greatest challenges that freelancers face is neck strain and wrist pain, since laptop screens are often too low, and keyboards force wrists to curve unnaturally. Neck and shoulder pain are common complaints from freelancers working on laptops.
James Monroe writes at Techie Buzz:
Dr. Tamara James of Duke University has done extensive studies on ergonomics with laptops. She suggests using a docking system, which works well to battle against the common ailments, and allows for a more comfortable working environment. However, it requires a separate external monitor and keyboard to work, which can be costly if you are on a budget.
If you can’t afford a docking station, try to always adjust your work so that your eyes are focused on the top of your screen in order to minimize neck strain. In addition, never work on a laptop on a couch for a long period of time.
Pay Attention to Posture While Working
While working on a laptop computer, your chair should have good lumbar support so that you don’t slouch or lean over. Your arms should be at your side at a 90 degree angle, and your feet should be flat on the floor.
Another option for improving your physical health while working on a laptop is to sit on an exercise ball at your desk. Dr. Toni Yancy, author of Instant Recess: Building a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time, suggests, “sitting on an exercise ball instead of a desk chair, adding that it helps strengthen the core while improving balance and flexibility. It also requires more energy, so a few calories will be burned.”
There also are more extreme options for improving your posture and improving your health while working. One option is to use your laptop at a standing desk. Another is to work from a tread desk, which is an attachment you can place on a treadmill so that you can walk while you work.
Manage Your Diet
By staying hydrated, drinking six to eight 8 oz. glasses of water each day, and eating frequent, light snacks, you’ll prevent muscle cramps and avoid the inevitable afternoon crash that always follows a large, heavy lunch. In addition, standing up to pick up a fruit, yogurt, or veggie snack will provide you with opportunities to stretch, take walks, and even relieve eye strain.
Stretch at Your Desk
While it’s most important to manage your posture while working on a laptop, you can also take brief breaks to correct your posture and to relieve your muscles right at your desk. Roll your shoulders back or pinch your shoulder blades in order to undo any strain and to correct your posture. In addition, you can do some simple yoga poses at your desk or exercises such as leg lifts while sitting at your desk.
Laptop computers do not provide the most convenient working positions. They specialize in being portable and lightweight, rather than ensuring users can have perfect posture. By paying attention to how you sit, taking frequent breaks, and managing your diet, you can keep your body healthy and even improve your productivity while working on a laptop.