Is teaching online good for your health? Another weekend is upon us and the assignments are mounting. Before settling down with my keyboard for the remainder of the afternoon, I decide to take a quick trip to the gym. I tried a “Warrior Sculpt” yoga class and now feel invigorated to start looking at students’ assignments again. The yoga instructor divided the class between a variety of stretching exercises and spurts of cardio training that got my blood pumping for the last hour. She talked about the importance of flexibility and strength, a healthy spine and being in control of our own muscular system from head to heels. The temperature in the room was set to about 90 degrees, coaxing the sweat to pour out of me. The instructor told us the heat gives our muscles more malleability and assists in the process of detoxification. She spoke to us between songs blaring from the speakers. “Through core work, twisting and other postures involving compression, there are ample opportunities for your central nervous, digestive, circulatory, and lymphatic systems to detoxify and flush. The heat amplifies those benefits.”
This yoga hour was a stark contrast to the sedentary time I spend teaching online. I realize that my workstation is probably not ergonomically correct. My chair, keyboard height and desk are not in proper alignment according to the US Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines:
Adjust chair height so that your feet are flat on the floor. This will keep your knees and hips at roughly the same height. To find this height, stand by the chair and raise or lower the seat pan to just below your elbows bent between 90 and 110 degrees. Take care that your elbows are not winged out, but instead hang with your upper arms at a comfortable, fairly vertical alignment. Your forearms should be parallel to the ground and your wrists in a neutral position. Since most desks are fixed height, it is best to adjust the chair height for the correct position of the arms and hands. Then, if necessary, provide support for the feet so that the underside of the thighs are just supported at the edge of the seat.
- Some desks do adjust in height, so look to see if there is such an adjustment. Much modular office furniture (i.e. cubicles) allows for adjustment of work surface height, as well, although making this adjustment may require some work. Ask your employer or facilities department to help you adjust such a desk.
Change your posture regularly. Regardless of how healthy your work posture is, sitting in any one position for an extended period is not healthy. If you have an adjustable chair, alternate between the following positions, all of which will keep your pose neutral and relaxed:
- Sit upright. Keep your torso roughly vertical, your thighs horizontal, and your lower legs vertical.
- Sit reclined. Tilt the backrest of your chair back so that your torso reclines between 105 and 120 degrees from your thighs.
- Sit declined. Tilt the seat pan of your chair slightly so that the angle between your thighs and torso is slightly more than 90 degrees. Don’t overdo this or you will feel like you’re sliding.
Since teaching a full-time online course schedule this semester, I am aware of some additional aches and pains I haven’t experienced when teaching face-to-face in the classroom. I certainly don’t walk around campus as often as I did when teaching face-to-face in multiple classrooms. If I lose myself in front of the screen and several hours fly by I will consciously get up and walk to the printer, division office or occasionally to Starbucks in order to get out of the chair. I wear glasses and sometimes after spending five hours or more staring at the screen, the bright glare can irritate my eyes and vision; when this happens I tilt the screen or adjust the brightness which usually alleviates the problem.
Establishing screen time boundaries is something I continue to work on, as it is difficult for me not to check my e-mail or social media at home after spending a full day at work on campus. I am usually in front of the computer screen again after dinner for a few additional hours. Unplugging an hour before going to sleep at night is on my priority list and I’m working on ways to accomplish it by reading, walking the dogs or talking on the phone to unwind. I also try to stay hydrated while at the keyboard. Thankfully we have access to an ice maker and water in our office suite. A glass of cold water, chocolate toffee or chewing gum are part of my grading routine, keeping me alert and on task. I do need to watch the chocolate intake though and practice more shavasana.