Rx for Computer Users: Get Up and Stretch

Rx for Computer Users: Get Up and Stretch

By Dolores Radding

Yvette Medina’s work keeps her in front of a computer most of the workday. She’s part of a team of 20 Regional Data Consulting employees in Walnut Creek who audit KP HealthConnect records, pulling out quality related data to submit to Joint Commission and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Yvette Medina stretches at her desk in Walnut Creek.

Yvette Medina stretches at her desk in Walnut Creek.

Like many people who spend long hours at the computer, Medina is prone to tightness in the shoulders and the neck. To counter that, she drinks a lot of water (which prompts regular bathroom breaks) and, at the urging of her manager, she asked IT to install Stretch Break Pro.

Stretch Break Pro is a computer program that prompts users to take regular breaks, and then plays animated demonstrations of short stretches they can easily do at their desks. It’s available to all regional employees through theIT Service Desk.

When Stretch Break Pro pops up on her computer screen, Medina says she sometimes does the prescribed stretches, but she mostly does her own.

“I have a hand weight at my desk, and a stretch band that I use,” she explained. “Getting up regularly and moving just makes me feel better.”

Medina’s manager, Lorelle Poropat, has posted suggested stretches throughout the department to remind her team to take stretch breaks. She said keeping them “healthy and happy” is a number one focus.

“I don’t push my employees to do the Stretch Break Pro exercises, per se,” she said. “But I do ask them to put it on their computers to remind them that it’s time to get up and stretch. Then, whatever works for them, whether that’s walking outside or going to get a drink of water, is fine.”

Get Your Blood Moving

Video Project Manager Leonor Quinonez uses the Stretch Break Pro software at the Regional Multimedia Communications office in Oakland.

Video Project Manager Leonor Quinonez uses the Stretch Break Pro software at the Regional Multimedia Communications office in Oakland.

Benita Kim is an ergonomics consultant in Regional Workplace Safety, and she agrees with Poropat’s philosophy on stretch breaks. She says 70 percent of workplace injuries in the regional offices are ergonomics related, and many of them could be prevented with regular stretching.

Stretching not only reduces ergonomic risks, but reduces stress, increases productivity, and increases energy level. Because our bodies weren’t designed to sit still, Kim says we need to regularly get up and get our blood moving.

“Researchers have found that it’s most effective to do a short stretch break every 20 to 30 minutes. Standing up and doing one stretch every 30 minutes is better than stretching for 15 minutes twice a day,” she said.

And while you’re up, Kim adds you should also close your eyes and look away from your computer screen for 10 to 15 seconds to give your eyes a break. She also recommends standing periodically throughout the day instead of sitting.

“If you’re on a WebEx or a conference call, stand up,” she said. “Stand up when the phone rings, or when you’re reading a document. Start printing on a printer outside of your office, so you can stand up periodically and walk to get your copies.”

Kim says regular stretch breaks can mean the difference between working in pain and discomfort, and working pain-free.

‘I Work Better After I Stretch’

That was the case for Michelle Nazareno, a recruitment coordinator in Martinez who developed tendonitis in her right forearm last year.

“I’m at my computer 80 to 90 percent of the day, and because of the nature of my job, I do a lot of mouse-clicking,” Nazareno said. “The injury was really painful, and I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to work.”

Nazareno spoke with her manager, and then found relief with physical therapy and medication within a month. She also got an ergonomic evaluation of her work area, but she says the most important change she’s made is regular stretching.

“Before, my mentality was if I leave my desk I won’t get my work finished. But now I realize I work better after I stretch, because it gets the blood going.”

Nazareno regularly uses Stretch Break Pro, which she’s programmed to prompt her to stretch every 30 minutes. When she’s tempted to skip a stretch, she said she remembers what it’s all about.

“If I can prevent another injury by spending a few minutes a day stretching, it’s more than worth the time,” she said.