Healthy Movement and Ergonomics at Home

When Humboldt State shifted to online instruction last Spring, Professor of Kinesiology Whitney Ogle found herself working from her kitchen and sitting on a hard wooden dining chair. As the co-director of HSU’s Biomechanics Lab, Ogle quickly realized she needed to make ergonomic improvements on her makeshift office.

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Videos produced by the Kinesiology Department offer ergonomic tips.
Knowing that thousands of Americans were in a similar scenario, Ogle and her Kinesiology graduate students created a series of videos, where they share best practices for optimal working and learning at home. The videos and additional resources on ergonomics can be found on the University’s Risk Management & Safety Services website.

“People think there’s a perfect office chair out there but the biggest thing is variety,” says Ogle. She explains that even a high-priced chair marketed as “ergonomic” will still force your body into making the same repetitive motions. This is exactly what leads to overuse injuries, explains Ogle.

“At first, I put a blanket under my seat so that I wouldn’t have weird angles at my wrists and elbows,” says Ogle. She also put a box on the floor so that her feet were flat on a hard surface, which evenly distributes weight across the hips and aids good posture. Ten months into working from home, Ogle has added two more workstations, including a saddle seat, a style of chair often used in medical offices. She stresses that just like any chair though, it’s not optimal for eight hours a day.

“People should figure out what works for them,” says Ogle. She explains that there’s no one size fits all for ergonomic design and that repeatedly using the same muscles can lead to cumulative stress in wrists, hips, and shoulders.

In their videos, the Kinesiology students demonstrate how to change positions regularly, practice good posture, and most importantly, incorporate regular movement into a day of working or learning at home. One video demonstrates how to stretch out pectoral muscles, often overused while hunching towards a computer, on a door frame. Other videos teach viewers how to use a finger stretcher or stretch out the spine on a foam roller

Ogle even has a simple hack for that hard wooden kitchen chair.

“Take a towel, roll it up, and place it the shape of C on the chair,” says Ogle. “It helps to hold your pelvis in the right place.” Her team offers other hacks such as putting a stack of books under your feet and using rubber bands to exercise and stretch the muscles in click-happy fingers.

“Healthy movement is all about variety throughout the lifespan,” says Ogle.

She and her students also emphasize the fundamentals of ergonomics, such as having the computer screen at eye level and utilizing tools like wireless keyboards for proper head alignment and bluetooth headphones, so you can get up and move around while on a call or listening to a lecture. Ogle says that even taking breaks with your eyes to look away from your screen–ideally, outside at nature–is important for our brains.

“If you live in Humboldt, there are so many beautiful things to look at,” says Ogle. She emphasizes that getting outside for a walk around the block or just a stretch in the yard is fundamental to both physical and mental health.

For more information about ergonomics, visit risksafety.humboldt.edu/ergonomics. To learn more about working and learning remotely, go to campusready.humboldt.edu/guide/working-home-campus.