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Staying Healthy in the Digital Age: Office Edition

Hi folks! For those who haven’t met me, I’m Kate. I do a bunch of behind-the-scenes stuff over here at Joyous Health. Joy’s referred to me as the resident n
Aug 16, 2015 | Kate McDonald Walker

Hi folks! For those who haven’t met me, I’m Kate. I do a bunch of behind-the-scenes stuff over here at Joyous Health. Joy’s referred to me as the resident nutrition nerd, but the truth is, I’m just a nerd in general. Being a nerd comes with certain stereotypes to which I happily adhere: I play videogames; my day job is all about computers; and I consume huge amounts of media. That adds up to a lot of screen time. Balancing my health nerdiness with my general nerdiness has been challenging, since computers and health don’t naturally go hand in hand.

So in this series, I’m tackling how to balance your health with our tech-loving, hyperconnected world. This week, I’m taking a look at the office.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 50% of jobs today require some level of technology skills, and that number is expected to go up to 77% over the next decade. These days, screen time is pretty much unavoidable for many of us.


At this point, we’ve probably all heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” You’ve probably also heard how screen time can damage developing brains. And all this is true. We weren’t designed to sit in front of computers for eight (or more) hours a day. But as much as we might like to sometimes, we can’t just declare that our work computers are bad for our health and refuse to use them anymore. We can, however, change the way we use them.

There are times when computers are necessary, and there are times when we just use them out of convenience and habit. Take note-taking for example: there is no need to take notes on your computer, you’re probably just doing it because you’ve already got it out or because you type faster than you write and you think that will help you take better notes.

Actually, studies show that while you may take more notes if you use a laptop, you’ll take better notes and retain more information if you write things out longhand. It’s also a great excuse to buy fancy stationary (a particular weakness of mine). When I edit things, like drafts of Joy’s upcoming Joyous Detox book, I print it out (double-sided, to save paper) and edit with a good old-fashioned red pen. Then I put the changes into the electronic document. This way, not only do I spend less time in front of my laptop, but I also find it helps me slow down and catch things I might miss working with a screen and keyboard.


Sadly, there’s only so much we can do about screen time at the office if we want to keep our jobs. However, we have more control over what we’re doing with our bodies while we look at that screen.

Specifically, it’s time for workers everywhere to stand up for their health. You can have the fanciest, most ergonomically advanced office chair in the world, but at the end of the day, the brutal combo of office chair, desk and computer is doing a real number on your spine and puts you at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer. Spending some time working at a standing desk can be a real boon to your health. And if you’re worried that your workplace won’t be willing to splurge on a fancy standing desk, you needn’t be. There are plenty of affordable options to adapt your current desk or you can go DIY and try out the fine art of the standing desk hack. (I cannot believe I just linked to a Cosmopolitan article, but that ironing board desk is genius.)

For the laptop users out there, laptop ergonomics is an oxymoron. When it comes to maintain healthy posture while working, laptops are the worst. Invest in your health by investing in a separate keyboard and mouse, and elevate the laptop’s screen to eye level. Using your laptop from your lap should be a very occasional occurrence. (Full disclosure: I am writing this blog post with my MacBook Pro on my lap. Mea culpa.)

My final suggestion takes us into the conference room, where I’m taking on both the chairs and the screen and saying we should get rid of both whenever possible. I cannot tell you how many darkened boardrooms I’ve sat in, slumped in an oversized office chair while staring at a PowerPoint presentation and absorbing very little of it. I’m not alone in my disdain for the Microsoft program that has practically become synonymous with “presentation.” Many people have written about how PowerPoint kills meetings. So let’s take a walk! “Fresh air breeds fresh thinking,” as Nilofer Merchant puts it in her brief but fantastic 2013 TED Talk. So ditch the PowerPoint, the chair and the whole office and try taking your next meeting to go.

Aug 16, 2015 BY Kate McDonald Walker
Sandy   •   August 18, 2015

I now have a sit stand desk at work and spend about 70% of my time working standing up. The sit stand desk was needed to help me work while dealing with a very painful back issue. I absolutely love working this way and can't see myself going back to a regular desk. I am more alert and focused when I work standing up. Definitely worth the investment.

Kate McDonald Walker   •   August 19, 2015

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