Despite the portability of laptops, there is one major issue almost every laptop suffers from – they simply aren’t very ergonomic.
Whether you’re working at your office or at a coffee shop, the small screen and low profile of a laptop forces you to slouch forward with your neck bent downwards, straining your neck, back, arms, and wrists. The end result is a world of pain in the long run.
Here are 6 simple ergonomic tips I tell all my clients that work on laptops. Let’s get started.
Don’t place the laptop on your lap
It’s natural to want to place your laptop on your lap when you’re sitting on a couch, armchair, or bed. Besides, isn’t that how they got their name?
Contrary to their name, laptops should never be placed on laps. When you sit in this position, no part of your body is ergonomically aligned. Your monitor is way below your eye level, and it’s not at an arm’s length away. Your keyboard is also not aligned with your arms and wrists.
Worse even, laptops emit heat and radiation, and this can cause health effects over time. Swiss researchers from the University Hospital of Basel carried out a study to investigate the effect of the heat generated by laptops. They found that a hot laptop can lead to skin damage, which can later develop into skin cancer.
Similarly, a study done by Fertility and Sterility found that placing it on your lap exposes your reproductive organs to dangerous waves. The result is a reduction in sperm motility.
Sit up straight
Have you ever heard of hunched over laptop syndrome? Yes, it’s a real thing. As its name suggests, it occurs when you hunch over for prolonged periods, causing tension in your back, neck and shoulders. Ultimately, the stress on these muscles becomes a chronic issue.
As explained in this post published by Harvard Medical School, the correct posture when using a laptop and other tablet computers (like iPads) is to sit up straight. This means that your head should be level not tilting forward, and the top of your screen positioned slightly below eye level. If you’re sitting on a bed or couch, place a pillow behind your back for extra support.
Invest in a laptop stand
If you use a laptop for more than a couple of hours every day, a laptop stand is not just a nicety- it should be a necessity. This gadget elevates your laptop to the recommended ergonomic position, and helps properly align everything from your back and neck, to your arms and wrists as you interact with the laptop.
According to Cornwell University, laptops present unique challenges when it comes to proper ergonomics due to the screen being too low. A laptop stand fixes this problem.
Use a separate keyboard
The ideal typing posture is where your elbows at bent at a 90 degree angle and your arms and wrists parallel to the keyboard. This helps encourage a neutral wrist posture to minimize the chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive strain injuries (RSI).
Unfortunately, you cannot achieve with a laptop on its own, as the keyboard is attached to the screen, and it’s impossible to adjust the two independently.
This is why next to a laptop stand, an external keyboard is the most important accessory to pair up with a laptop for good ergonomics. It lets you position the keyboard closer to you, negatively tilt it, plus make any other adjustments needed to achieve the optimal typing angle.
Use an external mouse
All laptops come with a trackpad, which while convenient, does force your wrist into a fixed position when using it.
From an ergonomic standpoint, alternating between postures is always a good idea, such as switching between standing and sitting. This is why I always encourage people to use a separate mouse with their laptop from time to time.
A good ergonomic mouse is contoured to let you rest your hand and wrist, helping alleviate stress and fatigue associated with prolonged use.
Take frequent breaks
You’ve heard this many times already, but I have to say it again. Prolonged sitting greatly increases one’s risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and metabolic syndromes.
Although there are different opinions on how long these breaks should last, most experts agree that a 5-minute break every hour or so is a good start. These breaks help to reduce eye fatigue as well as improve your concentration and energy levels.
Besides, there really is no point in working nonstop every day for 8 hours straight. According to experts, out of an 8 hour workday, we’re really only productive for about 3 hours. Frequent breaks or even meditation can actually help boost productivity.
Changing your habits when using a laptop is mostly a matter of awareness and choice. Incorporating these simple tips into your routine in the long run can make a huge difference to both your health and productivity.
George is the senior editor and ergonomist at Ergonomic Trends. You can find him hitting the gym or the yoga studio when he’s not working hard at a cafe as a digital nomad.