Posture tips for laptop users
A student's laptop is like a faithful companion. It helps us stay on top of interesting lectures, supports us in surviving the boring ones, and entertains us during breaks. We use it at home, on the train, on the couch, or in bed. Life without laptops has become unthinkable.
And yet, we have to be careful. Using a laptop for extended periods of time is unhealthy and can have a lasting impact on the quality of your life.
I'm talking about posture problems. As useful as portable computers might be, their design has a critical flaw: Because the screen and the keyboard are so close together, using a laptop encourages a crouching posture, with your arms up too high, your neck craned forward, and your back slouching. The uncomfortable and, honestly, terribly designed benches usually found in lecture halls are certainly no help, either. And using laptops on a couch is even worse.
But what can we do? Nobody wants to stop using laptops. And you don't have to! But maybe you want to pick up some good habits for healthy laptop use.
The core problem is that the screen and the keyboard are too close together, which makes it impossible to use a laptop while maintaining a good posture. You always have to either look down (which is bad for your neck) or put your hands up high (which hurts your wrists and cramps your shoulder muscles). So the obvious solution is to take the screen and the keyboard apart again: Get an external mouse and keyboard and put your laptop on a stand, or use an external monitor. Your screen should be on the same height as your eyes, while your desk and chair should be adjusted so that when your hands rest on the keyboard, your elbows are at a right angle. Your knees should be at a right angle, too - but if you have a non-adjustable desk, that might not be possible, in which case the arms are more important.
When you are using an external monitor, make sure to turn your laptop's internal monitor off entirely - else you might be tempted to look down.
Furthermore, try to avoid using your laptop on your lap. You want to have support for your arms. When you use a laptop sitting on your lap, your arms are dangling free, and your shoulder muscles have to actively keep them in position. That's going to cause muscle tension. When you're at home, work at your desk rather than on the couch. If you have to work on your lap, try to shift your position often and take frequent breaks. And if you like to sit in your bed and watch movies on your laptop, consider getting a small, cheap TV screen - you could connect it to your laptop as a second monitor, and put it on a comfortable height and distance from your bed.
Working on the go
Now, this is all well and good, but you're (most likely) a student. You use your laptop on the go, and you can't carry your external monitor with you all day. You also won't have room for a laptop stand on the tiny lecture hall desks. So what can you do?
I have to admit that it's not easy to maintain a good posture in the ETH lecture halls - at least not in those I've been in so far. Some are better than others, but generally the chairs don't support your back well and the desks are at an awkward height for laptop use. Therefore, the obvious solution would be to not use a laptop at all - but that's probably not going to happen.
Try to look up sometimes to give your neck a break. Pay attention to the lecturer, for example - I've heard that sometimes they explain the course material that's going to be on the exams. This is tough to actually do - it's way too easy to get so absorbed in whatever you do on your laptop that you forget everything around you. Nevertheless, maybe you want to give this a try.
A more viable option is to get up and walk around regularly. It is generally recommended to office workers to get up and walk around for at least 5 minutes every hour. As a student, you have a natural advantage in this: you have one 15 minute break per hour. Try to get up and walk around in every break, not just when you're changing lecture halls. Go refill your water bottle, get a coffee, or just walk up and down the stairs. Moving is a lot less stressful to your muscles than sitting still.
There are also some stretching exercises you can do to relax your back and shoulders. Personally, I have always lacked the discipline to actually go through with those, but there are many resources online on what you can do. Just give it a shot, maybe you are a better person than I am.
Exercise is generally a good back pain deterrent. Try some ASVZ courses that exercise your back, such as swimming, dancing or yoga. If you don't like exercise, yoga is an option I can definitely recommend. It's not exhausting at all (unless you go for Power Yoga). The goal of yoga is to gently contract and stretch all your muscles in order to relax them, which is precisely solving the problem of tense muscles due to bad posture.
Back pain is no joke. As you get older, it will only grow worse, and it will get harder to do anything about it. Don't wait until it's too late - do something about it now.