Laptop computing: a survival kit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 September, 2009, 12:00am

Many schools require students to undertake more Web-based learning to develop creativity, enquiry and independent learning skills.

The humble pen and pencil are now playing second fiddle to the laptop. But using computers and laptops for hours every day could harm your health.

Teens are now beginning to develop similar problems to adults: eye strain, neck and shoulder stiffness. What's more, the keyboard of a laptop is smaller, which puts even more strain on the wrists and fingers, which could lead to repetitive strain injury (RSI) in these muscles.

Several studies have shown heavy computer use and related near-vision tasks puts children at risk of early myopia, or shortsightedness.

Unfortunately, laptops aren't designed ergonomically since the computer screen and keyboard are joined and cannot be positioned independently for reading and typing. You end up either with a bad neck and head posture or a bad hand posture.

Despite the name, your lap is not the best place to put your laptop. If you can afford it, invest in some ergonomic accessories such as a laptop desk, a laptop stand or adjustable laptop computer arms that can be clamped to your desk at home or fixed onto a wall. These let you raise and tilt the laptop screen to the right height and eye level, allowing you to type more comfortably by letting you use your wrists in a more neutral position.

If you work on your laptop at home as well, then it's a good idea to invest in an external mouse and keyboard as extra plug-ins since this reduces tension in your arm and shoulder muscles.

You might also want to add an ergonomic chair to your wish list, or at least a height-adjustable chair with good back support - raise or lower it to avoid using your wrists at an odd angle.

When you're working at home or school, think about what you'll be doing more of - reading or typing. If you're going to be using the laptop keyboard more, place it in a position on your desk so that you can keep your wrists straight. If you're just researching information and reading, then elevate your laptop screen with some books to lift the screen to eye level.

Take a mini-break every half hour. Set an alarm to help you get into this habit.

It might also help to stretch your neck, shoulder, arms and legs too - get up and move around. Move your eyes off the laptop screen at least once every 15 minutes and focus on a faraway object for several seconds so your eye muscles can relax.

Blink really fast for a few seconds - this helps to clear dust away from the eyes.

Try this exercise to recharge your eye batteries:

Rub your hands together until they feel warm.

Cup your hands and place them over your closed eyes; don't put any pressure on your eyeballs.

Imagine blackness and darkness as you sit quietly for a couple of minutes with your hands over your eyes.

For more information about exercises for relieving eye strain and muscle tension, visit the National Institute of Health's Division of Occupational Health and Safety: