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Guarding your health on the job
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Are you spending one third to one half of your day at work in an office? If so, is this routine making you physically ill?

From the uncomfortable chairs and poor air quality to depression-inducing stress, your workplace might be worse for your health than you think.

You may be able to identify with some of the following office workers' problems. We will try to help you get to the root of these problems and provide ways that may help reduce them and promote good health and well-being.

Peeper pressure

Example: Luo Minhan, IT Company

I am so nervous about someone suddenly walking up and talking to me when I am staring at my computer. When we are talking, we need to make eye contact, but moving my eyes continually from my computer to converse with somebody makes them very dry. To compensate my body forces my eyes to water and it appears that I am crying. It's embarrassing.

Expert opinions: According to an ophthalmology study, computer users risk tired, red, burning eyes leading to blurred or double vision. People blink up to 60 percent less often when looking at a computer screen, causing dry-eye symptoms.

To protect yourself, look away from the screen and at a distant object at least every 30 minutes. Use eye drops sparingly if you feel eye strain. And if you wear reading glasses and work at a computer more than one hour a day, researchers recommend a pair of glasses especially designed for the distance between you and the screen.

The mouse that roars

Example: Lin Chen

It recently has become very difficult for me to communicate with people through MSN and emails, because my right hand is in constant pain and I don't know why! When client pressure is added to hand pain, I almost lose it.

Expert opinion: You may have a disease called "mouse hand," which results from repetitive use of the mouse without a break. Although, there are many possible interventions, there is only one that is guaranteed to prevent your mouse from hurting you- reduce mouse use with keyboard shortcuts.

Common recommendations are to interrupt prolonged computer use for 5 minutes every hour and/or 10 seconds every 10 minutes.

The more frequently you take these breaks, the shorter the total break time needs to be.

Stress can depress

Example: Bai Yu, PR company

When I am in my office, I feel tired and sleepy, but when I get home, I feel very clear-headed.

Expert opinions: For many people, work dominates their lives. Some occupations are more stressful or pressured than others, like IT, PR, and consulting industries.

Increased stress and depression have been linked to a number of chronic and non-chronic health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart attacks.

You can do this:

1 Get enough sleep. Rest is essential to good health and stress relief. With proper rest, not only will your body be better able to deal with long work hours, but your emotional outlook will improve as well.

2 Respect your limits. Long hours and little sleep, compounded with emotional stress are a disaster waiting to happen. It's better to call it quits, go home, rest and return the next day refreshed than to push yourself past your limits and risk illness or possible strain.

3 Take advantage of company services. Today many companies offer lunchtime yoga or exercise classes, or have a massage therapist on call for employees.

Headaches and fatigue

Example: Zhang Xinghua, real estate Company

I always develop headaches and fatigue in the afternoon at work, and sometimes the headaches are very serious. But when I get to the hospital, the doctor says I have no physical problems.

Expert opinions: Having a computer screen positioned incorrectly can lead to headaches and fatigue. Researchers from the Kongsberg College of Engineering, Norway, quantified the long-term effects of screen positioning on 150 offices workers. They found that employees who had their computer screens misaligned just 15 degrees experienced more pain and stiff necks resulting in more sick leave. To correctly position a screen, make sure that the top of the screen is at eye level.

Large legs

Example: Zhao Geyu, editor of a fashion magazine

I suddenly discovered that I couldn't wear any of the pants I had worn in college three years ago. But my weight has not changed. What's wrong with my legs?

Expert opinion: A lot of office ladies throughout their workday may sit in their office chairs for eight hours or even more without any movement. That's dangerous to a healthy figure especially in the leg area. Get out of your chair regularly. Stand when talking to colleagues, or talking on the phone. Take short walks as often as possible.

Do you cross your legs when sitting? Although we may believe that this is the lady-like elegant way to sit, this posture cuts circulation to your legs. If you do not want varicose veins to mar the beauty of your legs and compromise your health, uncross your legs. The best way to sit is to simply place both legs together with your feet flat on the floor, balancing your weight equally.

Back to back

Example: Zhang Min

I thought back pain was only common amongst the elder set, but I am far from old and suffer with back pain every day!

Expert opinions: Back pain is one of the most common work-related health problems, yet it can be easily prevented by ensuring that your working environment is back friendly.

The human body was not meant to stay in one constrained position for prolonged periods of time. It almost goes without saying that sitting for long periods of time in slouched, collapsed or unbalanced positions causes tension, fatigue and eventually, strain.

Make sure that your chair is comfortable and the height and arms can be adjusted. When you are sitting straight with your feet flat on the floor your arms should be at a 90-degree angle when typing on the computer.

(Beijing Today, May 4, 2008)

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