If you’re a working nomad like me, you spend much of your day in front of your computer. I do copywriting and blogging. Other nomads edit videos, do voice-over work, serve as influencers, or do other things digital nomads do. Still, others use their hands instead of screens to create artsy, beautiful, and useful objects.
As they say, it’s nice work if you can get it. But spending prolonged time in front of your computer or being sedentary can take its toll, especially when working in an office on wheels. Preserving your lifestyle and health while working on the road requires an understanding of ergonomics.
What is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics promotes workplace practices that help prevent fatigue, injury, muscle strain, and discomfort. Your work might not be that strenuous, but it can still make you susceptible to pain, strain, or injury, even while sitting.
You might not benefit from a well-lit office or high-dollar adjustable office furniture, but you can still do a lot to prevent your work environment from causing you harm. Healthy habits like maintaining a healthy posture, occasionally standing up, and being wary of repetitive-motion injuries can keep you healthy and working for as long as you want.
Maintain a Neutral Posture
It can be easy to overlook how you’re sitting when engrossed in a project. Before you know it, you’re hunched over and starting to get that kink in your neck. To keep this from happening, go for a neutral posture, which means keeping the head, neck, shoulders, spine, and hips aligned. Maintaining a neutral posture can help you avoid neck, shoulders, and back pain.
If you live and work in a cramped space like I do, you must be resourceful and do your best. While traveling in my Honda Element, my primary option is to sit on my bed. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to have access to a picnic table. Either way, I try to do the following while sitting:
- Try to keep your feet flat on the floor or ground. Find something to use as a footrest if your feet dangle while sitting.
- Keep your back vertical or lean back slightly. I use pillows and cushions to stay vertical and support my lumbar.
- Line up your knees with your hips or keep them slightly lower.
- Keep your thighs parallel to the floor or ground to support your hips.
- If you have enough room in your rig for an office chair, try to find one with at least three points where you can make adjustable points, like the armrests, lumbar support, and chair height and depth.
If you can, configure a set-up that allows you to stand once in a while. It does wonders for increasing movement throughout the day (more on that below). For example, if there’s a picnic table at my campsite, I’ll place my laptop on my plastic dish-and-utensil box, which goes on top of the table. If you’re able to use a computer or screen while standing, try the following:
- Position the monitor so your head can face forward and remain level. You don’t want it to tilt.
- Keep your wrists, hands, and forearms parallel to the floor or ground.
- While standing, keep your ears, shoulders, hips, and ankles in an imaginary straight, vertical line.
- If you use a keyboard, keep your elbows close to your sides and bent between 90-120 degrees.
Get Up and Move
Doing a lot of sitting can lead to sedentary behavior, which refers to the lack of movement throughout the day. Experts define sedentary behavior as sitting for more than 30 minutes without getting up to stretch or walk around.
Reducing your sitting by one hour a day or more can reduce your risk of heart disease. Also, limiting your sitting to 25-75% of the day can help with neck and lower back pain. More good news—just six minutes of light activity provides the same health benefits as one minute of moderate-vigorous exercise.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides simple suggestions to help you get moving:
- Roll your shoulders backward and forward.
- Lift your right arm overhead and lean your torso toward your left hip. Repeat with the opposite arm and lean to the other side.
- Bring your weight up on your toes, and then roll back on your heels.
- Lift one knee and bring it down. Repeat with the other knee.
- Press both arms forward, and then bring your elbows back.
- Stretch both arms up and then down.
- Roll your head side-to-side in half circles.
- Step side-to-side.
- Walk or march in place.
Be Aware of Repetitive-Motion Injuries
Sedentary work can contribute to repetitive-movement injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand and arm. The following tips can help prevent these injuries:
- If you’re camping in cold weather, keep your hands warm. Try fingerless gloves if you need to use a keyboard.
- If you use a computer mouse, ensure it’s not positioned or shaped in a way that strains your wrist.
- Maintain a neutral posture. Hunching forward compresses the nerves in your neck, which can affect the arms, wrists, and hands.
- Gently stretch your hands and wrists during frequent breaks.
- Relax your movements and grip. For example, harsh keystrokes over time can cause strain.
The last place many of us want to work is in a traditional office. However, being outside or in our vehicles can present some ergonomic challenges. Practicing a few healthy habits to prevent pain and injury can help maintain a healthy work environment, no matter where we temporarily call home.
I hope you find these tips useful. Comment below if you are a nomad remote worker and what you do to stay healthy.