6 healthy habits IT pros can't afford to ignore

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It should come as no great shock that spending the bulk of your day stuck behind a desk, staring into a monitor like it's your long lost lover doesn't exactly make for the healthiest gig on the planet. Sure, it's maybe not as dangerous as working as, say, Jeremy Renner's stunt double, but the IT profession is not without its risks (and unfortunately, they're not the kind that'll earn you any bragging rights). Here's a list of tips to help you avoid the most common health issues.

Shake Out Carpal Tunnel

High on the list of IT-related health woes, carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by repetitive strain to your wrist muscles. In a nutshell, it screws with your median nerve (the one that supplies feeling and movement to certain parts of your hand). Symptoms can include numbness, tingling and weakness in your hand and fingers. RN Kristin Sabel, who works for the Latin School of Chicago, says that avoiding carpal tunnel in a career involving frequent use of a keyboard presents a serious challenge.  She notes that good body mechanics and posture are critical to prevention. An ergonomic chair can also be helpful, but only when your feet are flat on the floor (if your feet don't hit the surface, use a foot rest). Pay attention to your hands too. They should be extended out at a 90-degree angle from your upper arm, and your wrists should not be too high or too low during typing. It's also essential that you take breaks every two hours to exercise your wrists; try rotating them and shaking them out. Remembering to stop every couple of hours can be tricky, so Sabel suggests using a timer.

Be Good to Your Back

An ergonomic chair may be essential in helping prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, but its benefits go far beyond your wrists. It can also play a critical role in helping you avoid lower back pain. If you're not paying constant attention to your posture (and seriously, who has time for that?), you're likely guilty of slouching toward your screen. A good chair will help you keep your back straight when sitting or you can try jazzing up a less posture-friendly version by wedging a lumbar support pillow behind your lower back. While you're at it, clean out your pockets before you nestle into your cubical for the day; keeping your wallet or other items in there can create unnatural sitting positions, which, in turn, can screw with your spine. Speaking of general aches and pains, be mindful of your neck when sitting in your fancypants chair. Neck pain typically becomes an issue when your monitor is too low; avoid this by adjusting the height of your seat (and don't forget to use a foot stool if your feet no longer touch the ground!). If your company pays for it, you could also ask for an adjustable desk, such as The Geek Desk, which is motorized and can be used sitting or standing.

Mind Your Eyes

Eye strain is almost always an issue when you spend loads of time stuck in front of a screen. Not only can it make your eyes feel dry and gritty, it can lead to other health issues too. "Strain on the eyes can cause headaches and blurry vision,” Sabel notes. She recommends using an anti-glare filter on your screen, and also references the Mayo Clinic's 20-20-20 rule, “Take your eyes away from the screen every 20 minutes and look at an object approximately 20 feet away for 20 seconds." Poor lighting can also play a factor in eye strain; when possible, set up your space so that any natural lighting is hitting the monitor and not your eyes. Keep your face a safe distance from your screen (at least 18-inches) and use preservative-free lubricating drops when your eyes feel like they've spent all day scanning the Sahara.

Boost Your Mood

While most of us would be hard pressed to find a career that doesn't involve a certain level of stress, IT workers may experience a slightly heavier burden than some. Sabel says that job-related stress is one of the top health risks she notices with IT employees. She points out that consistent pressure and high demands can lead to depression, insomnia and illness – all of which contribute to sick days. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health cites long work hours and job insecurity as some of the top reasons for occupational stress. Taking regular breaks (you know, when you're busy stretching, shaking out your wrists, rotating your neck from side to side and putting drops in your eyes) can also help boost your mood. And it's no big secret that regular physical activity can help banish negative thoughts, even if it means forcing yourself to hit the gym for an hour a few times each week (if you're bad at this, try giving a friend permission to act like your personal trainer). Most importantly, you'll never reduce job-related stress without finding a healthy balance between work and your personal life.

Ban Blood Clots

Now we're getting into the really scary stuff. While not a daily issue like back pain or eye strain, a sedentary job can be a big contributor to the formation of blood clots in the legs. These clots can travel to the brain and lungs, which then typically leads straight to an ER visit. You can be in tip-top shape and still be at risk for blood clots if you're stuck at your desk all day, which is why it's super important to get up and walk around. Even when you're sitting you can move your legs around under your desk. If you have access to a conference room (or don't mind looking a little silly in front of your colleagues) do a few leg lifts and flutter kicks during your breaks – not only will these help prevent blood clots, but you'll have the added benefit of toning in the process.

Lose the Love Handles

It doesn't matter how sensitive you might be about your weight, you still need to pay attention to it. Packing on the pounds will only contribute to a host of other issues (many of which we've already discussed) including heart disease. Trimming up can be pretty damn difficult when you're strapped to a desk all day and you have familial obligations in the evenings, but there are still a few tricks you can use when the gym is your worst enemy. At least half of the love handle battle is eating right. Cut back as much as humanly possible on refined sugars and track your daily calorie intake with free mobile apps like MyFitnessPal. You can also make sure you're taking enough steps in a day with wearable gadgets like Fitbit's new Flex wristband.

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Contributor

Stacy Warden

Stacy is a contributing editor of the Pluralsight blog and has worked in publishing since the dawn of the iPhone. Currently, Stacy deals in tech and education--a combination that she finds absolutely fascinating. You can find her on Twitter @sterrsi.