Ergonomics and students: A quick-start guide to a healthier workspace

By in Sports & Health

Being a student often means spending large amounts of time typing, sitting and hunching over a textbook — be it in the classroom or at home. These activities can have a significant impact on one’s health, especially if not performed and managed properly.

How you work can determine how you feel, and it’s easy to improve your working environment.

This is where the world of ergonomics comes in. Ergonomics is the study of efficiency in the workplace, and many of the findings in the field are applied to minimize the physical stress that office work can put on one’s body. For example, the fruits of ergonomics can be found in keyboards and office chairs meant for those who spend most of their days typing and sitting.

The negative effects of improper posture while sitting and typing often result from an accumulation of bad habits over time, and thus, they are frequently overlooked — at least until pain develops. For this reason, it is important to be proactive when it comes to working ergonomically.

Let’s focus on sitting first. To start with, you can improve your posture without purchasing an expensive office chair. Begin by sitting upright with your shoulders back, and make sure that your weight is evenly distributed across your hips. Keeping your feet flat on the floor with your knees at 90-degree angles is also important, here.

On top of maintaining good posture, taking frequent breaks while working will ensure that your body is not in the same position for too long. Getting up and moving around every 40 minutes or so is a good habit. Set reminders to help you achieve this goal.

A good office chair can also be important for good posture. One of the best features to look for in an office chair is adjustability, so that you — and anyone you potentially share your chair with — are able to adjust the chair to suit your body.

Two important qualities to look for in a chair are adjustable armrests that fit under your desk, allowing you to get close enough to your workspace, and an adjustable-height feature that will help you maintain proper posture with your feet flat on the floor. Additionally, adjustable lumbar support that allows for the modification of both height and depth is a key feature to look out for.

Another aspect of creating an ergonomic workspace for yourself lies in the keyboard you use. Because of both cost efficiency and spatial limitations — bringing an external keyboard to class is unrealistic for most — students often have no choice but to use their laptop’s standard keyboard. Despite this, there are some things you can do to optimize what you have.

Positioning your keyboard so that your elbows are at 90-degree angles and so that you are not leaning forward can help to alleviate stress in the body. Likewise, laying the keyboard flat or tilting it downward, with the space bar higher than the number keys, allows the wrists to remain straight, which can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

Even a quick look into ergonomic keyboards reveals that there are a large variety that deviate from the standard look and feel of a keyboard. Split keyboards are one fairly common option, and true to their name, they are split down the middle into two sections — which can be connected, separated or adjustable, depending on the keyboard.

The idea behind a split keyboard is to create a more natural position for the user’s arms, wrists and hands. Buying a new keyboard can be quite pricey, which is unrealistic for many, but the option does exist for those who are concerned about musculoskeletal pain or deterioration.

The process of building a comfortable workspace, especially on a student budget, can be complicated, and at times, expensive. While going out and buying all new furniture and computer accessories may not be possible, do what you can with what you have, and you will still reap the long-term benefits.

Jack Thompson / Sports & Health Editor

Photo: Michaela DeMong