An experiment, of sorts….. improving my health and well-being in the workplace

Dawn Geatches

Dawn Geatches, Project Scientist at the Hartree Centre, has been actively trying to improve her health in the workplace. Here, she shares her experience:

Recently I have been carrying out an experiment. Given that I work in science at STFC and have the pleasure of working on some very exciting Hartree Centre projects, you might rightly say “So what? You’re a scientist and they do that!”Well, that’s true and my day job does involve experiments, but not ‘physical’ ones. I simulate experiments entirely within a computer, ‘in silico’ experiments if you will. I use theory encoded into software and apply it to systems of interest to try and understand the important characteristics of an experimental environment or material.

Generally, a deep understanding is the first step along the path towards designing for optimum outcome, whatever that may be, and that’s what I’ve been trying to achieve with my recent attempt at ‘physical’ experimentation.

“I wanted to understand why I could no longer ease the aching in my neck, shoulders and arms.”

I wanted to understand why I could no longer ease the aching in my neck, shoulders and arms. The effects of sitting at a computer for hours every day had, I thought, been lessened somewhat by taking regular breaks to go for a wander and some  ‘deep thought’(!) with a bit of privately executed arm-swinging and stretching. Alas no, the effects were accumulating and constant so a visit to a chiropractor was needed to help me understand the causes of the problem, hopefully leading towards an optimum solution – being free from aches. In no uncertain terms the chiropractor told me that all of my aches were caused by sitting for too long, he suggested getting a standing desk to help me strengthen various muscles throughout the body.

Standing desks come in various shapes and size and I opted for one that is tiered and sits atop my larger desk. Easy to adjust with the keyboard on one tier, at a level where my arms are parallel to the floor and the screen on the higher tier so I look straight ahead to view it.  For the past month I have been variously standing and sitting, and can report some very positive results. Gradually, my arms, shoulders and neck began to ache less, and I began to feel more ‘loose’ within myself but also able to move around more freely. Even simple things like moving the feet slightly, shrugging the shoulders and arm-stretching, all have a wider and freer feeling when standing than when sitting pinned in one position. A bonus is an increased sense of ‘bod-y-ness’ something akin to mindfulness, whereby I can feel when I have maintained one stance or posture for too long and need to change, resulting in an increased sense of relaxation both bodily and mentally.

“Sure, initially, standing at a desk to work looks a bit odd to your office mates”

Sure, initially, standing at a desk to work looks a bit odd to your office mates and might elicit a few comments, and it even feels a bit odd to stand, but those feelings (and comments) are temporary, and soon disappear when you realise that it really is possible to think and type while standing-up, just as I’m doing now with this blog. After only four weeks my aches are now negligible, and a thorough analysis of the results leads to the conclusion that this experiment is an unqualified success. The standing desk will be a permanent feature of my work environment for the foreseeable future.

Given the success of this experiment (disclaimer: even a negative outcome would have been a success – as all scientists will tell you!) will I be donning a lab coat in the near future? Well, no, for the good of mankind I shall steer clear of traditional laboratories and will confine my day job to performing experiments somewhere within, or in close proximity to, a computer. Although, I wonder what would happen if ……