By Bev Bachel
With social distancing limiting our ability to connect in person, most of us—whether working full or part-time or already retired — are spending considerable time in front of our screens, which are increasingly becoming our primary way of engaging with the world. Unfortunately, all that screen time, which even before the pandemic averaged 11 hours per day for adults, is straining our eyes, destroying our posture and stressing our 50-, 60- and 70-year-old spines. 1
So how can we ensure a healthy relationship with our screens as we do our work, enjoy our hobbies, write our memoirs, binge our favorite TV shows, organize our recipes, take classes and stay connected with family, friends and colleagues?
To find out, I asked ergo pro Vivienne Fleischer, president and cofounder of Performance Based Ergonomics, how those of us 50+ can manage screen time safely and productively.
Here’s her advice:
Tip 1: Get serious about your set up. However tempting it may be to use your laptop or tablet on your lap, couch or bed, Fleischer recommends a “tech trio” made up of your screen and an external keyboard and mouse. “That way, your screen can be at eye level, with your body upright and balanced, your arms close to your sides and your eyes looking straight ahead,” says Fleischer. She also advises placing your equipment on a flat surface such as a desk, a kitchen counter or an ironing board.
Tip 2: Use an external monitor. Monitors built into laptops are inherently problematic because they require looking down, which can strain eyes and cause headaches. That’s why Fleischer advises getting an external monitor or placing your laptop on a riser. Either way, center the screen within one arm’s length of your body and slightly below eye level (unless you wear progressive lenses, in which case you’ll want it positioned several inches lower) so that you don’t have to look up, down or to the side.
Tip 3: Be kind to your eyes. “To avoid eye fatigue adopt the 20-20-20 rule,” says Fleischer. “Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen at something that is at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.” Also, be sure you have ample lighting. Last but not least, consider blue-light glasses or screen filters to spare your eyes from the blue light screens emit.
Tip 4: Perfect your posture. Make sure you sit back in your chair and that your chair has good support. Pull your shoulders back and keep them in a relaxed position, neither lifted nor hunched. Put your feet flat on the floor. If necessary, add a footrest or a ream or two of paper to ensure your feet lay flat.
Tip 5: Break it up. At the top of every hour, even if you don’t have a sit/stand desk, get in the habit of switching it up by alternating from sitting at your desk to standing at a counter for at least 10 minutes.
Also, be sure to take breaks throughout the day. “Whether you participate in Zoom meetings, FaceTime with friends, or spend your afternoons researching places you’d like to retire, give yourself at least 10 minutes every hour to stand, stretch, rest your eyes and drink a glass of water,” says Fleischer.
Keep these tips in mind and you’ll not only reduce your pain and increase your enjoyment, but you’ll also find yourself more productive and engaged as well. For more ergo-friendly tips and helpful hacks that help you make the most of your screen time, visit Fleischer’s blog.
Twin Cities freelance writer Bev Bachel has mastered the art of working from home, something she’s been doing for more than three decades. A lifelong goal setter, she’s the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It: A Guide for Teens.