Workplace ergonomics & Sympathetic Dominance

May 5, 2016

According to the 2012 Australian Health Survey, adults in Australia spend on average 39 hours per week sedentary, with close to 10 of these hours sitting down at work. People working in administration, clerical and business roles are amongst the most affected, spending on average 22 hours per week sitting down.

The human body isn’t biologically designed to sit for such long periods of time. Most of us know this, but unfortunately, sitting is an inescapable consequence of modern-day living and conveniences. Whether it’s working at a desk, driving to and from work, or watching TV, videos on videoder app at home, sitting has become a routine part of our productivity, transport to and from work, methods of communication, and even entertainment (watching movies, playing iPad games, reading the news on your phone…the list goes on!).

For this reason, business executives and employees need to make workplace ergonomics a priority. Ergonomics covers all aspects of a job, from the physical stresses it places on your joints, muscles, nerves, tendons, bones etc, to various environmental factors that impact hearing, vision, general comfort and health.

Unsuitable ergonomics in the workplace can add to employees experiencing what’s called Sympathetic Dominance (SD). SD is a wound-up, “fight or flight” state controlled by your automatic nervous system. When you feel overwhelmed and overworked, this adrenaline-fuelled state can become dominant, creating “Sympathetic Dominance”. SD can increase your risk of acquiring serious illnesses later in life.

SD is predominately caused by emotional and physiological stresses—both of which can be triggered by long work hours and lack of movement/exercise. SD is an unfortunate side-effect of modern-day life. It supresses digestive, hormonal and reproductive functions, resulting in health problems such as shoulder and neck tightness, headaches and migraines, inflammation, high blood pressure, digestive complaints, hormonal imbalances, anxiety and depression.

Workplace ergonomics—such as the type and height of your chair, the proximity of your computer screen, lighting in the office and so on—directly impacts your mental and physiological health. To avoid developing SD and SD-related illnesses in the future, we recommend that you do the following:

  • Get up off your chair every hour and stretch for 5 minutes
  • Invest in or create a standing desk, so you can alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day
  • Adjust your chair so that your forearms are parallel to the desk, with your shoulders relaxed and elbows at 90 degrees
  • Position your computer at focal distance so you don’t have to slouch forward
  • Position your keyboard 8cm from the edge of the desk, with the mouse positioned so that the angle of your elbows is 90 degrees relative to the upper arms

Here are some useful resources on how to create an integrated ergonomic workspace and why it’s important:

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