When I ask my Grio teammates, “where do you live,” they all give slightly different answers. Some will say “San Francisco” while others say “the Bay Area.” Some say “the United States” while others say “Mexico.” While our answers may all be different, we do have one thing in common: There is only one place we will each live for the rest of our lives. That place is our bodies.
In this blog, I’ll discuss how our modern lifestyles impact our “inner tech” and look at some of the physical and ergonomic solutions we have to keep our bodies in tip-top shape.
The Reality of Modern Lifestyles
At Work: When we are at work on our computer, many of us expect that we will look like the woman in the photo below: a straight back, elbows at 90-degree angles, and our computer at eye level. However, when reality sets in, you usually end up looking like the man in the photo on the right: shoulders hunched, neck protruding out, and eyes strained.
On Your Phone: When we’re using our phone, we once again expect that we will be able to keep the screen at eye level to protect our neck. However, when you’re out in public, this stance (like the one in the photo below) makes it appear that you are either taking a selfie or taking pictures of the people around you. So, you once again inevitably end up using your phone in a hunched position.
The stances we take while using our phones and computers will eventually lead to back and neck pain. The pains I had from my daily life finally forced me to ask: Is the technology we use designed for our bodies?
Our Technology vs. Our Biology
Interestingly enough, when the 1st Generation iPhone was developed, it was designed to be small enough to fit ergonomically in the palm of your hand. The phone was also made to be as light as possible to decrease strain on your wrist.
However, today’s smartphones were created to give you larger screens, better cameras, and more add-ons. As a result, they are larger and heavier, which is harder on your hands and wrists.
By using your smartphone on a daily basis, you can develop:
- Smartphone Pinky: Smartphone pinky is caused by balancing a smartphone on your pinky for extended amounts of time. While medical experts agree that this practice can cause pain in your pinky, some smartphone users are now also claiming that it is actually changing the shape of their pinkies as well.
- Text Claw: The size of smartphones forces you to hold your hand in an unnatural position, which can cause stiffness and joint pain.
- Text Elbow: Holding your phone to see the screen forces your elbow into an unnatural position that can lead to pain.
Mouse and Keyboard
Computer mice, trackpads, and keyboards are not designed for your hands to rest in a natural position. Modern wireless computer mice can further exacerbate this issue because many don’t work while they are charging, forcing you to use the mousepad on your laptop.
If you use a mouse or trackpad and keyboard all day, your hands’ unnatural position can lead to repetitive strain and even carpal tunnel syndrome.
Computer, Monitor, and Desk Setup
The setup of your desk, computer, and monitor can also lead to physical pain if not correctly set up. Some of the most common problems include tech neck, eye strain, and back pain.
The chair you use can arguably be the worst of the office tech offenders. Sitting down all day, especially in a bad chair, can lead to:
- Weak legs and glutes: This is also referred to as “Dead Butt Syndrome.”
- Tight Hips and Back Pain: When you have dead butt syndrome, it leads to tight hips, which in turn causes back pain.
- Overall Health: Sitting can wreak all sorts of havoc on your body, so, rather than going through everything, we can just say that sitting is detrimental to your overall health.
So, what can we do to alleviate the issues that our sentient office lifestyles have caused? We can create ergonomic solutions:
If you look for “Phone Holder” on Amazon, you will see that there are a lot of different options. These are three of the most common types:
The first one is good for your hand and wrist but still forces you to strain your neck to look down. I personally purchased the third phone holder and love it. It allows you to place your phone at eye level wherever you are.
Vertical Mouse and Vertical Keyboard
Vertical mouses and vertical keyboards appear to be alien objects when left on a desk. However, despite their strange appearance, they have been specifically designed to keep your hands and wrists in a natural position.
Most keyboards and mice keep our hands and wrists in a pronated or supinated state.
As you can a see in the above graphic, the vertical mouse puts your hand in a neutral position, similar to its position when you shake hands. Likewise, the vertical keyboard is raised in the middle, allowing your hands to sit in a more relaxed position.
There are multiple computer stands available on the market. The best stand is one that raises your computer screen to your eye level to keep your neck in a neutral position.
Standing desks can give you the lesser of two evils between sitting and standing. As discussed above, sitting can impact your overall physical health. However, standing for too long can also have negative impacts on the blood flow to your legs.
Rather than getting a standing desk, the ideal solution is to get up and move every 30 minutes. For many of us, myself included, this can be challenging. When I am focused on a project, I don’t want to get up and lose my momentum. However, it is better for your long-term physical health to take a break and spend five minutes walking, stretching, dancing, or doing something else active.
Hacking Your Biology
Ergonomic solutions are great, but are they the only solutions?
Ergonomic solutions focus on the technology we create, but they don’t take into account the tech within us. Therefore, I wanted to do some research into some of the natural processes within our body that could help regulate the effects of our office lifestyles, as well as the physical and mental practices we can implement to further strengthen those processes.
Autonomic Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system, a component of the peripheral nervous system, regulates involuntary physiological processes, such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and digestion. It is divided into two sections: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system controls our “rest and digest” physiological processes, while the sympathetic nervous system controls the “fight or flight” response.
The parasympathetic nervous system is connected to many of the organs in our body via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest of the 12 cranial nerves in the body, and is responsible for both sensory and motor functions.
As you can see, it is heavily involved in the parasympathetic nervous system. In fact, the vagus nerve is connected to your brain, heart, lungs, stomach, liver, and intestines. The word vagus means wandering. This word is appropriate because the vagus nerve runs from the brainstem to the colon, and is often dubbed the superhighway of the body.
The vagus nerve can be stimulated by physical activity, as discussed below. Some of the benefits of stimulating the vagus nerve include:
- Improved gut and brain communication
- Reduced stress, anxiety, and fear
- Reduced inflammation
- Lowered heart rate and blood pressure
- Improved relaxation with deep breathing
As discussed above, the autonomic nervous system and vagus nerve can both be stimulated through physical fitness. Some of the best activities for autonomic nervous system stimulation include:
Exercise reduces stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, and stimulates the production of endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and elevators. It also alleviates dead butt syndrome by strengthening your glutes, which in turn strengthens your back and helps you to improve your posture.
Stretching helps you keep your muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. You need flexibility to maintain a range of motion in your joints. Without flexibility, the muscles shorten and tighten. When you are then physically active, the muscles are weak and unable to perform, which puts you at risk for joint pain, muscle damage, and strains.
Sitting in a chair all day results in tight hamstrings, which can make it harder for you to extend your legs or straighten your knees all the way. If left unchecked, tight hamstrings can even inhibit walking. By stretching every day, you can help guarantee your ability to walk in the future.
I started doing yoga two years ago, and now I don’t know how I survived without it. While many people think of yoga as just another form of physical activity, it is actually much more than that.
The word yoga means unity between body and mind. A researcher at Harvard described yoga as unique because it combined physical activity, breathing, and meditation into one endeavor. Yoga is especially beneficial because it stimulates the autonomic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which then stimulate the vagus nerve.
When most people hear the term “meditation,” they either think they are too busy for it or that you are supposed to sit in silence and think about nothing for a long period of time. However, both of these assumptions are untrue.
Meditation is about training yourself in self-awareness and perspective. You are not trying to turn off your thoughts and feelings; you are trying to learn and observe them without judgment. Eventually, this will allow you to understand your thoughts and yourself much better.
In fact, taking the time to meditate can:
- Increase focus
- Reduce depression
- Reduce anxiety
- Stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system
- Reduce aggression and increase positivity and compassion
If you are interested in trying meditation, there are numerous meditation apps available. Two of the most popular on the market right now are “Headspace” and “Calm.”
Deep Belly Breathing
Often when you do yoga and meditation, you are encouraged to do deep belly breathing. Due to cultural conditions, a lot of us do not breathe all the way into our bellies. We take shallow breaths that stay in our chest because in western culture, having your stomach protruding is seen as unattractive.
However, deep belly breathing has a lot of benefits for your physical health. Taking time each day to practice deep belly breathing tones your muscles, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, and promotes relaxation.
When all is said and done, your body’s health is up to you. Take care of your body and speak kindly to your body, because it is the only home you truly have.