Tips for staying healthy and happy at your computer

Ask Mr. Modem

Poor posture, inadequate lighting and other ergonomic and environmental issues can be particularly troublesome for older computer users – my aging self included. If you are a card-carrying baby-boomer or senior, here are a few tips you can use to make yourself comfortable and keep your computing productive and injury free.

Correct keyboard position. Position your keyboard so that you can type while keeping your hands in a neutral, flat posture. To do this, place your keyboard on a height-adjustable, negative slope (a fancy-shmancy way of saying “away from you”) keyboard tray that attaches to the underside of a desk or a table. For additional information, read Healthy Computing’s Keyboard Tray Buyer’s Guide at

Another way of achieving correct hand position is to place the keyboard on a surface that is approximately elbow high, when seated, and type with your hands straight rather than angled at the wrists. Laptop users should sit back in a chair with their hands in a neutral position on the keyboard. Even better, a Laptop Desk ( provides a stable, ergo-friendly surface. Ideally positioned, you should not feel any strain on your back, neck, arms, forearms or wrists. If you have restricted mobility in either hand, consider purchasing a one-handed keyboard, available through

Mouse position. Position your mouse on a stable surface as close to your body as is naturally comfortable, approximately elbow high, when seated. If you purchase a keyboard tray, make sure that it can also accommodate your mouse.

Individuals afflicted with hand tremors will benefit from an ergonomic trackball which will be less sensitive to erratic hand movements than a traditional mouse. Many additional assistive computer products are available through

Monitor position. As you sit back in your chair, with your arms extended, your fingers should just about touch the center of the computer screen. Properly positioned, you should be able to look straight ahead at the monitor without tilting your head back or looking down.

If you cannot comfortably read your screen when it is approximately an arm’s length away, you might need to increase the font size within a given program. Most operating systems have accessibility settings that can help individuals with disabilities or physical restrictions. WebEyes ( works well with Internet Explorer and can greatly increase the size of on-screen fonts.

Place your computer screen so it does not face or back up to an uncovered window, unless you can lower blinds to reduce glare. Keep room lighting dim so the screen can be seen without any glare. A supplemental task light or table lamp to illuminate documents may be needed to avoid eye strain. Experiment with various lighting to determine what is most comfortable for you.

Document position. Use a document holder that it is height adjustable and placed between your keyboard and monitor, or adjacent to the screen. Appropriate placement will reduce risk factors such as awkward head and neck postures, fatigue, headaches and eye strain. Avoid placing documents on a flat surface in front of the monitor if you’re planning to refer to them frequently. See eBay’s “Document Holders Buyer’s Guide” at for additional information.

Supportive seating. A comfortable computing chair, with lower back support, is a little slice of heaven. Make sure that your chair allows enough room for your legs to fit under the keyboard tray or desk. If the chair has arms, they should not interfere with your ability get close to your desk or keyboard. If the chair does not feel comfortable after you have been sitting for a while, consider purchasing a gel-type seat cushion. For additional information, read “How to Choose an Ergonomic Chair” at

Foot support. While working at the computer, your feet should be positioned firmly on the floor or a footstool. Dangling feet and dangling participles are to be avoided at all costs – though while writing this article, my cat fell asleep on the keyboard.

Rest breaks. Sitting for extended periods of time is not well advised, so get in the habit of taking a two- to three-minute break every 30 minutes. During these breaks, don’t reach for a doughnut and instead, stand up, walk around and look out the window to rest your eyes. I use an inexpensive oven timer, placed across the room, set for 30 minutes.

Every half hour, the alarm goes off and scares the bejesus out of me. When I regain consciousness, I get up, walk across the room and tap the timer to reset it for another 30 minutes. It’s simple, it’s highly annoying – but it works like a charm.

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