With over 20 million people now working from home, our kitchens, dining rooms and spare rooms have been turned into offices. Our workspaces are now perhaps having to be shared or indeed new garden rooms have been erected to cope with the overflow. We chatted with GP, Dr Nicola Butler, on how we can make our homes a healthier place to work for everyone.
Dr Butler explains this is just the fancy term for thinking about your environment, where the actual furniture should go, where you should sit, where the best light is, how high your table should be and where will your PC or laptop sit. Instead of arranging things how they ‘look best’, you must actually think about what will ‘work best’ for you. Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is really common in the office and is where small innocuous repetitive movements over time cause pain and inflammation in joints – often wrist and hands but also necks and shoulders. Badly designed seating, older style keyboards and awkward movements with a mouse are common causes. Use the internet to explore this and consult your GP if you think there is a problem.
- You want good lighting but don’t sit in direct sunlight. You need to have a table which is the right height in comparison with your chair.
- Ensuring you have an adjustable height chair is crucial to getting this part right.
- Make sure your armrests can slide underneath the tabletop so you can sit comfortably within reach of the keyboard. Avoid putting pressure from your elbows all day on arm rests or the desk.
- Make sure your feet can be placed flat on the ground and at a slight downward angle. Chairs which have sloped adjustable seats which move with your body give the optimum health benefits.
- Don’t be cramped – if you need to move furniture out of your workspace, do so, you are going to spending a lot of your time here!
Eye strain causes sore, tired, watery, or dry eyes. It is also a common cause of headaches, which can lead to poor sleep, which has a knock-on effect of anxiety and depression, so do not overlook it! Good lighting is essential for maintaining good eye health, whether you have a large room with overhead lighting or a small lamp by your desk, think about your natural light and how you can best optimise it. Natural light also plays an important role in your general health, Dr Butler advises SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) affects up to 3% of the UK population and is a a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons, hence the need for good natural light in your work environment.
- Try and go outside every day, as well as getting some good fresh air it will build your Vitamin D levels which certainly at the present time, are important in building your immunity.
- Consider a Vitamin D supplement 10mcg a day over the winter
- Dry eyes are often worsened by central heating – so consider turning it down. And it is really important to stay hydrated – so less drink tea and coffee and more water. Speak to you pharmacist if you are still finding dry eyes a problem.
- Light Boxes can be useful if you suffer from SAD or natural light is limited in your workspace.
- Dim the brightness on your PC or Laptop, - it should be about the same as your surrounding light. Increase the contrast, reduce colour intensity, and consider increasing the font size.
Ventilate not Hibernate
It is too easy to have the heating on high, the windows shut, and find yourself in a slump! Find the right temperature for you – it will probably be lower than you think around 19-20 degrees. Wear loose layers that you can easily add to if needed. If you are lucky enough to have a window – get it open. If not, whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil…. take a quick wander outside if you can. There is also strong evidence that our emotional state, which in turn affects learning and productivity, is affected by our sensation of smell. Ever had powerful feelings or memories triggered by an odour? There are many ways to capitalise on this from inexpensive aromatherapy pulse point balms to reed or even electronic diffusers.
Listen to your body
Your body is a wonderful machine, it heals itself, it has inbuilt alarm bells and it will tell you if something is not right. So, listen, really listen to what it is trying to tell you.
- Headaches can be triggered by eye strain, dehydration, poor posture, and stress
- Back and neck pain can be from poor posture again, sitting for too long, poor lumbar support. Look after your core – there are so many simple online options available now to exercise your core and stretch out
- Nutrition - are you really hungry or are you bored, stressed, lonely, or eating out of habit? Putting on weight through unconscious eating is so easily done and the damaging long term health risks of being overweight are vast. Find a way of eating that suits you – our bodies are all different and not all new trends in diet suit everyone.
- Redefine your caffeine – It’s a drug after all and puts stress on your system when used to excess. Many of use end up trapped in a cycle of needing more and more caffeine just to ‘get though the day’. Go decaf – and ‘target’ your caffeine to first thing in the morning if you need it, and again mid afternoon. You may be amazed at how much more effective this is.
- Sleep easy. It is really important to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. The ideal is still thought to be around 8 hours a night and there is mounting research that chronic sleep deprivation is implicated in obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.