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Healthy Computing Tip # 424: Take Breaks

"I have more energy" and "I feel a little less tired by the end of the day" are common comments reported when people begin to integrate micro and larger breaks during their computer work.  Yes, even with the best intentions they may forget to take micro-breaks or large movement breaks.  Micro-breaks are 1 to 2-second moments of muscle relaxation to interrupt the low level static tension while larger breaks include standing up and moving around. These movements allow the blood to flow in and out, bring oxygen and nourishment to the tissue and remove waste products. Prevent discomfort and increase your energy when you take breaks.

How to Take Breaks:

Take many micro breaks.  Every 30 to 60 seconds drop your hands to your lap and let your arms, shoulders and hands go limp.  At the same time wiggle your shoulders. Use every opportunity such as:

  • Dropping your hands to your lap with a plop when reading an email instead of continuing squeezing the mouse

  • Dropping your hand to the side of your body after finishing a web-based data form

Take frequent large movement breaks. Every 15 to 60 minutes change positions, alternate tasks, or perform movements for about 1 to 5 minutes. These large movements assist lymph return, improve blood flow and redistribute physical strains and pressures, such as disc compression from sitting.  Use every opportunity to change your position such as:

  • Standing up to answer the telephone

  • Walking over to the next desk instead of sending an email

  • Alternating work tasks (e.g., data entry then, filing then, data entry)

  • Standing up and actively performing stretch and strength exercises

Install a computer interrupt program. These programs remind you to take breaks. The following programs can be downloaded from the web for a free test ride.

  • Stretch break  (For PC and Mac--one of the best programs to guide you through breaks and stretches--$44.95)
  • RSIGuard       (Excellent break reminder program that is based upon your actual work at the keyboard and mouse. Keeps track of actual keyboard activity and breaks--$40-$65)
  • Mindful clock   (For PC only. It sounds a gong during the day to remind you to take a break --free for personal use)
  • Break reminder  (For PC only--$29)
  • Stress Buster l   ($36) **
  • Timeout         (For Mac only--freeware)*
  • MacBreakZ     (provides stretching tips for the Mac--$24.95) **

*We thank Brigid Duffy for this suggestion.

**Thank you to Ray Grott for these suggestions.


The Institute for Holistic Healing Studies and Human Resources sponsor the distribution of Healthy Computing Email Tips. Copyright 2009 Erik Peper, Ph.D. and Katherine Hughes Gibney. Permission to copy and distribute Healthy Computing Email Tips for personal use is granted. Distribution or copying of Healthy Computing Email Tips for commercial purposes is prohibited without prior written consent of the copyright holders.
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