As long as I live, the 2 weeks of the CNE will represent the sounding of the last fanfare of summer. I still get the hurry-up-and-cram-the-fun-stuff-in compulsion, combined with anticipation of exciting new beginnings even though now, many years past my own back-to-school experiences, nothing much changes in my routine between the last week of August and the first one of September. Somehow this time of year always FEELS different. We’ve had a magnificent (and REALLY HOT) summer, and now it’s getting to the time to pull back on the reins and get a bit more structured and purposeful again.

I re-realize, as I set my own kids up for another school year and – hesitantly – turn my own life back to routine, ‘desk-time’, and a ‘buckle-down’ mindset, how important it is to make sure our tools and our environment are optimized and customized for success. As a chiropractor I see far too much preventable discomfort (or actual harm) done by causing our bodies to adapt to environments or activities rather than modifying our surroundings to suit us.

So below, I’ve compiled a brief list of things to keep in mind as you stock up, sit down and get back to another season of learning, working and growing:

Happy Fall!

Carrying a Heavy Load – I have to admit, I’m a bit on the nerdy side, and the aisles and aisles of back-to-school supplies displayed right now makes me a bit giddy. And my kids ‘NEED’ it all… but carrying all that stuff can be heavy. A backpack certainly helps to keep the weight distributed evenly and supported by the large postural muscles, but remember (especially when thinking about little ones) that the weight in a backpack should max. out at 10% of total body weight.

Watch the Screen (or better yet, don’t) –Like most, I’m addicted to my smartphone (it’s amazing how fast we’ve come to need to be constantly ‘plugged-in’) and I know we’ve all been bombarded with the risks of driving/walking and texting etc. But what I’m seeing is neck pain and posture changes associated with prolonged looking down; and hand, wrist and thumb injuries from manipulating a tiny keyboard. It’s tempting to send that message ‘right now’, but if it’s more than a few words, save it for when you’re at a real computer. And when you do need to look at your screen hold it at eye level rather than looking into your lap.

Gaze into the Distance – Eye fatigue can be a real problem. As we come back inside after our wonderful summer breaks, we find ourselves in artificial light and in front of screens, books etc. more often. This can lead to anything from tired and itchy eyes, to problems focusing, or even vision changes. Eventually we might even have headaches and stiff muscles from the strain. Look after your eyes by making sure the lights in your environment aren’t too bright. Cut down on glare wherever possible, and make sure your computer screen is adjusted to a brightness and font size that are comfortable for you. And exercise your eyes – when we get absorbed by what’s on the screen we blink less and our eyes accommodate to a specific focal distance. Make an intentional new habit of breaks during which you alternate focus on objects far away and close up and even slowly and intentionally to re-coat the eyes in tears.

Speaking of Taking Breaks – Take breaks!! When I had a ‘regular job’ back in the day when internet and email was just taking off, I found that the ability to connect with my office-mates via intra-office messaging and the ability to find information on the internet and digital files vs. reference books and filing cabinets meant that I rarely had to actually leave my desk. I can only imagine how exponentially more efficient these systems are now. The need to get up isn’t job-imperative now but it still is health-imperative. Don’t get sucked into your tasks at the expense of joint alignment and muscle fatigue. Aim for 10 min. of activity for every hour of sitting (all at once or broken up) and make sure at least some of them include fresh air too.

Ergonomics – This one’s a huge topic unto itself that’s near and dear to my heart, and becoming even more important to consider as so many of us change from a formal workspace to a laptop wherever life takes us. For starters: you want your feet flat on the ground (or stool), your knees slightly lower than your hips, elbows at a 90-120 degree angle and wrists neither flexed nor extended too much. Your back should be supported and most of your work should take place directly in front of you. Your monitor should be placed so that your eyes look straight at the top 1/3 of the screen, and if you do substantial amounts of copy-typing the document you work from should be placed on a stand rather than tabletop.

That delicate Balance – If there’s one thing I’m seeking to take with me into the potential fall chaos, it’s the awareness of my own need for balance and my responsibility to help those in my circle find theirs Obligations can devour fun, giving can out-prioritize receiving, convenience can trump health-supporting choices and the to-do list can overshadow rest. It’s all about balance and recognizing that is the first step to finding it.

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