By Marc Williams
One of our most popular blog entries to date is “Dim Light and Other Hazards,” a discussion of some of the effects of sitting in front of a computer all day. At the beginning of the semester, before there is a lot of grading to do and emails to answer, it is really quite easy to remember to step away from the computer for a moment to stretch and rest my eyes. Now that the first BLS session is in its second half and assignments are in need of grading, it is more difficult for me to remain disciplined when it comes to taking breaks. I’m guessing that others are finding themselves glued to their computer monitors just like me.
Here’s a quick guide from Health.com about back, shoulder, and core health. While its focus is on “great posture as you age,” I think the tips are applicable to anyone who works in front of a computer all day. This is important for many of our BLS students who work in front of a computer all day, only to come home at night and work on a computer to complete course assignments.
Is it time for you to stretch?
By Marc Williams
This morning, as I sat with my oversized mug, finishing off the last of what had been nearly a full pot of coffee, I came across yet another article on the effects of coffee on one’s health. My coffee mug is an extension of my arm: when I’m emailing students, preparing a new lesson, or grading papers, my coffee is always within reach. As a major coffee drinker (and serious snob) I’ve spent a good deal of time trying to discover if my daily dose of caffeine, size extra grande, was actually doing harm.
Happily, I’ve found much research that suggests my habit is quite healthful: coffee is linked to reduced risk of certain cancers, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, not to mention its ability to increase alertness. However, sometimes my consumption borders on excess, and the ill effects of high coffee intake have been well-documented: increased risk of certain cancers and acid reflux, plus caffeine addiction can lead to chronic headaches, etc. etc. etc.
So is coffee good for me or bad for me? I’m confused.
According to Christie Aschwanden of Slate.com, the confusion is widespread–and the uncertainty about coffee’s effect(s) on health is nothing new. She mentions Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Changed the World.
According to Pendergrast’s book, coffee has stimulated intellectual and often irreverent pursuits among users throughout the ages, often sparking backlash. One governor of Mecca banned the drink after discovering satirical musings about him coming from local coffeehouses. In 1674, a group of London women grew angry with their husbands for spending so much time at coffeehouses (often in an attempt to sober up after the pub), and published a pamphlet warning that the beverage would make them impotent. The men fought back with a competing pamphlet claiming that coffee actually added a “spiritualescency to the Sperme.” In 1679, French doctors blasted coffee, because it “disaccustom[ed] people from the enjoyment of wine.”
While the debate’s historical component is fascinating, I want answers. According to Aschwanden’s article, University of Alabama physician Melissa Wellons compiled the various medical studies and concluded that most of the physical effects of caffeinated beverages are “observational,” meaning that causality has not been adequately demonstrated. In comparing these observational effects side-by-side, Aschwanden concludes that the positive effects outweigh the negative.
So it appears, at least for now, I can slurp away.
Posted in Health and Fitness, News and Current Events, Science and Technology
Tagged current events, exercise, health, history, liberal arts, Marc Williams, office, online learning, science
By Marc Williams
About two years ago, I hurt my back. I wasn’t doing anything extraordinarily physical–just some routine chores around the house. The pain was significant and it lasted quite awhile. After a few weeks of waiting for the injury to heal and for the pain to subside on its own, I went to the doctor, who referred me to a physical therapist. I couldn’t believe that some simple chores around the house were causing me such trouble. However, I learned from the physical therapist that the problem had not resulted from house work. My injury was caused by bad posture.
The BLS program at UNCG is an online degree program and as an instructor, I spend nearly all of my working day in front of a computer. While in front of the computer, my posture generally looks something like the image below.
Less than ideal posture.
But how can bad posture cause an injury like the one I experienced? The key ingredient for me was time.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, my reliance upon a computer to do my job puts me in the 55% majority of Americans who use a computer at work. However, my personal computer usage for work exceeds the three hours per day national average. I’d estimate that my work activities demand roughly six hours per day staring at my computer screen, about double the national average. But this level of use doesn’t make me unusual; the same Bureau of Labor Statistics study cited above shows a much higher rate of computer use among “managers and professionals,” (about 80%) and the rate of computer use among those with college degrees is also higher than the national average. It seems that higher levels of academic and professional achievement correlate to computer use in the work place.
Paul Lieberstein (Toby, L) and Steve Carrell (Michael, R) on The Office.
As I considered how my computer reliance affected my health, I was reminded of one of my favorite television shows, The Office. Here’s the episode, titled “Safety Training,” in which branch manager Michael Scott attempts to make office work seem dangerous–an obvious attempt to prove his masculinity to the warehouse staff who operate heavy machines.
H.R. representative Toby advises the employees to take hourly breaks from their computers to rest their eyes and he cautions about depression-related office conditions that include dim lighting. Of course these health threats are exaggerated by Michael and dismissed by the warehouse staff. While the examples are given in a comedic context, my experience suggests that computer work can indeed be tough on the body and mind.
After much experimenting, I’ve found that Toby’s advice on The Office is sound. I try to get up from the computer every hour to stretch, move around, interact with real people whenever possible, and go outside. I found that I needed exercises to strengthen my back and I use a few yoga positions to help negate the “hunchback” posture I use at my desk. The routine could use some variety so I’m always looking for new ideas. I’ve often wondered how my colleagues–and our students–deal with the effects of computer use. Any tips?
Posted in Education, Health and Fitness
Tagged business, computers, education, exercise, health, liberal arts, Marc Williams, office, online learning, technology, television, uncg, university