FitITproNews: Ergonomics and the IT professional

In this week’s newsletter

Editor’s Corner. Lead an IT pro to water. Use the Internet! Five effective habits to help with weight loss. Fishy fish oil: when to supplement. Take ownership of where you are at.

Ergonomics is important for wherever you might do you work. Photo by Standsome Worklifestyle on Unsplash

 

Editor’s Corner

Mitch Tulloch is the Senior Editor of FitITproNews and a recovering fat IT pro who lost 50 lbs in midlife and is now on his way to becoming a fit IT pro. Mitch is a widely recognized expert on Windows Server and cloud technologies who has authored or been Series Editor of numerous books/ebooks from Microsoft Press. Mitch is also the Senior Editor of WServerNews and writes frequently for TechGenix.

 

Hey everyone! Welcome to the May 2021 issue of FitITproNews, the world’s only newsletter devoted to helping “recovering fat IT pros” make progress on the journey towards strength and health!

This month’s newsletter starts off with an editorial by myself on the important topic of ensuring your workplace is ergonomically optimized for the benefit of your fitness and health. Columnist Kris Lall then weighs in the importance of hydration for maintaining good health. Next comes Sarah Trammell who talks about using the internet to research causes of any health issues you may be experiencing. After this Robin Camp shares five habits you should develop if you’re trying to lose significant weight. Lana Khazari digs into the nitty gritty concerning fish oil in the article that follows. And Kris Kane wraps everything up by challenging us to keep ourselves accountable concerning our health and wellness.

Now for my editorial…

Two months ago in our March newsletter guest columnist Craig Hollins who runs a small managed services provider (MSP) business in Australia shared some weight control tips for IT professionals struggling with keeping their bodyweight within a healthy range. One of the tips he shared was this:

Get a standing desk.

This made me recall some of my own experiences trying to make my personal workspace healthier through the use of ergonomic furniture and equipment. Most of us who work in the IT profession tend to have our heads constantly in the cloud (not a metaphor or a pun since cloud computing is a big part of our job nowadays) so I thought I’d share my experience with what’s commonly called a sit-stand desk.

Ever since I made the switch to full-time IT a couple of decades ago, I’ve found myself sitting in front of a computer almost as many hours a day as I lay in bed. And it actually got worse once my career took another turn toward writing and editing books, whitepapers, courseware, and other collateral. When I was a LAN admin I got to move around a lot, including climbing into shafts and ducts to lay cable. And when I taught technical courses as a Microsoft Certified Trainer, I spent a good amount of my time standing and presenting material to other IT pros. But writing and editing mostly involves staying in one place for extended periods of time, and over the years my butt has clearly suffered most from the inactivity that resulted.

A couple of years ago, however, I had to try something different because of a medical condition that made it difficult for me to remain seated for any length of time. The condition has since resolved itself, but at the time it posed a quandary: How could I continue working on a computer for hours at a stretch while being unable to sit in a chair?

That’s what turned me on for a while to a sit-stand desk.

Investigating a sit-stand desk

The basic idea of a sit-stand desk (also known as sit-stand, sit/stand, sit & stand, sit to stand, and so on) is that you will be able to change your posture frequently and effortlessly throughout your workday. Manufacturers of such desks suggest that this will increase your general well-being and energy level and thus improve your productivity as well. Some even claim their desks may help prevent or alleviate certain diseases and medical conditions like high blood pressure or even heart disease.

At a colleague’s suggestion, I decided to try this option for a while, though at first I would mainly be standing because of my medical problem. I asked around and found an IT pro friend who had previously bought and used a sit-stand desk but had currently retired it to the garage. The desk he loaned me was one of Varidesk’s offerings (I can’t remember exactly which model) and I tried it out for about a week. I liked the spring-assisted lifting mechanism that enabled me to raise or lower the desk almost effortlessly when I wanted to switch between sitting and standing position. My problem, though, is that I tend to have a lot of hard copy material by my side as I work on a computer, the reason being as I shared in another article here on TechGenix that my eyes grow tired easily when I look for long periods at a monitor screen. As a result I often like to print out research materials and have them beside me as I work, which means I also need pens and highlighters and other office materials handy. And the kind of mess I typically have on my desk didn’t fit well with Varidesk’s magical sit-stand mechanism. I’d give an A rating for this product, however, for IT pros who still have good vision.

The next solution I tried involved having two desks for myself, one traditional sit-down desk and a second taller desk I would use only for work I would do when I was standing. Another colleague I talked to happened to have a spare Bekant desk from Ikea, so I set up this adjustable desk behind my regular desk so I could spin around in my chair and stand up and use it. With a laptop on the standing desk and a PC on the sitting one, I was all geared up and ready to go. Since I’m generally a multitasker anyway and always have lots of balls in the air at any one time, I thought this approach would help me juggle the various projects I was working on.

I actually liked this second approach better than the adjustable sit-stand desk idea for several reasons. First, it gave me more usable workspace, not less (I’m taking into account my hard copy materials here). Second, there seemed to be less chance of me knocking over my coffee since I didn’t have to lift or lower anything, just spin my chair and stand up or sit down. And third, the second-desk option would probably be cheaper if I decided on it. Not that the Bekant is a cheaper desk, it’s overpriced as far as I’m concerned. But there are lots of other sources both online and brick-and-mortar for fair-priced adjustable standing desks including Staples and Office Depot. (I’m using Canadian links here since I live in Canada, but it should be easy for readers to find local equivalents.)

Plus if I later decided that I favored the standing desk over my regular sitting one, I could enhance and beautify my office environment with products like the SmartDesk 2 from Autonomous or a customized electric StandDesk Simple from StandDesk. I even had a hardware geek at Microsoft suggest that I build my own with this table lift set from Progressive Automations. The possibilities boggles the mind…

What I finally decided upon

In the end when my medical condition cleared up, I decided I liked the idea of having two separate desks to work on, one low and one high, but I wasn’t getting much health benefit from spinning 180 degrees in my chair to alternate between them. I decided to move my two desks to opposite corners of my office so I’d actually have to get up and walk from one desk to another to switch between them. I put a computer on each desk and left my cell phone on my standing desk and my tablet for Skype conferencing on the other desk. I put my Nespresso machine on a table in a different corner and my tray of oatmeal snacks on top of the bookcase near the door. In other words, what I did was arrange my office layout including both work and break items in different places around the room to try and force myself to get up and move around as often as possible during the day.

It worked. I lost several unwanted pounds and felt generally healthier and more energetic. I was also at least as productive as I had been before. The only downside was that I quickly wore out my shoes.

Anyways, hope the above story encourages you to try and make your workspace more ergonomic for the benefit of your health. Enjoy the rest of this month’s issue of FitITproNews and feel free to send us feedback on any of the topics we’ve covered — we love hearing from our readers!

Cheers!
Mitch Tulloch, Senior Editor

 

Lead an IT pro to water (Kris Lall)

Kris Lall works as a product manager in the tech industry for an enterprise software manufacturer. As a youngster, Kris was consumed with soccer before technology came along. Now he’s consumed with both. You can find him on Twitter at the not-too-surprising handle @krisoccer.

Hydration is obviously essential to maintaining good health. And we’ve come a long way since people consumed mainly coffee, tea, and water. Over the past several decades, consumers have been demanding and the market has been supplying a much wider range of beverages than anyone could have ever imagined.

One of the perks of working in the technology industry has been the beverage benefit — access to just about any type of liquid refreshment when employees are in the office. Aside from mainstays like coffee and water, soda regularly stocked in the company fridge includes a wide range of beverages that consist of sugar as a natural sweetener or artificial sweeteners, like aspartame — aka, regular and diet drinks.

While we’ve known for some time that consuming sugary drinks in large volume can have serious health effects, various studies are showing similar outcomes for beverages with artificial sweeteners.

Some of the diseases associated with sugar-sweetened beverages include obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, liver disease, and gout. People turned to non-sugar, “diet” branded options to reduce their caloric intake and to lose weight. Some will remember Tab, one of the earliest diet sodas with a claim to fame of containing a single calorie, much fewer than its sugar-based siblings, like Coke:

Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vintage_Tab_soda_cans_and_egg_nog_can.jpeg

Similar to sugar-based beverages, diet soda in large quantities can apparently lead to diabetes, fatty liver, dementia, heart disease, and stroke. Not exactly a great tradeoff!

Of course, we’ll continue to learn more about the long-term effects of too much sugar and non-sugar sweeteners as time passes and additional research is performed. The news is unlikely to get much better, so what should our plan be to stay hydrated and healthy?

A few years back, I modified my hydration behavior by removing sodas from my beverage options and began drinking mainly water. I still drink coffee, tea, and occasionally another option, but while I’m in the office (home or work), I mostly choose water. After forming a habit of consuming mainly water, whenever I now try to consume a beverage with any type of sweetener, my taste buds find them too sweet, which is the way I want it.

So the next time you’re reaching into the office fridge to wet your whistle, consider avoiding the tendency to choose a sweet option — of any type. If you really want to treat your body as a temple, then the healthy choice for liquid consumption is water.

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/sugar-sweetened-beverages-intake.html

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325919

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/whats-worse-sugar-or-artificial-sweetener/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/artificial-sweeteners-sugar-free-but-at-what-cost-201207165030

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-coke-zero-bad-for-you

 

Use the Internet! (Sarah Trammell)

Sarah Trammell is an application analyst at a university in Georgia. She became interested in health and fitness issues when she began making diet and lifestyle changes to lose weight back in 2007 and learned even more when trying to track down what to do about other health issues beginning in 2011 with not much input from doctors. You may follow her blog at ihatemyglutenfreelife.com.

 

Throughout the time I was trying to figure out issues with my health, I would hear or read about the idea that people should not go online and research diseases and other causes of their issues. Perhaps for some people it may be better for them not to do this kind of research, but as for myself, I’m not sure where I would be today if I did not use the internet to my advantage and learn all I could to find out what was going on with my health.

When I was dealing with acne well into my thirties, I decided to do a web search to see what I could find out about causes and how to handle them. One such cause was gluten intolerance. I decided I would eliminate gluten to see if it would make a difference in my skin. Within days I noticed a huge difference in how I felt. Over time I realized it was a wheat allergy possibly due to my grass pollen allergy. I had found a possible connection between the two through research I did online, and when I went to the allergist to talk about it, he was actually very open-minded about it. He said the normal treatment for grass pollen allergies, allergy shots, would probably not work on the food reaction, however. Removing wheat from my diet, since I was allergic, did help to clear my skin.

At one point, I was dealing with terrible insomnia. At first, I would wake up during the night and be unable to go back to sleep, but I began to get so anxious about waking up that I would not even be able to fall asleep in the first place. There were a few nights where I was up all night. I tried some tips that the doctor suggested and took prescription sleeping pills for a few weeks, but I felt there were other causes not being addressed. While searching online, I found out about how electronics could affect sleep. Having them close to the bed could interfere with sleep. I had a cordless phone, an alarm clock, and a lamp all on the shelving at the head of the bed. When I moved those electronics away from the bed, my sleep improved greatly. While things weren’t perfect because I still had other health issues to uncover and resolve, this one change made a big difference.

In 2015, after a cold, I was hit with dizzy spells. When I went online to see what I could find out, I uncovered information about a condition called vestibular neuritis. It sounded a lot like what I had. The information I found said to stay active and stick to your regular routine as much as possible so that your brain could learn to compensate from the damage caused by the vestibular neuritis. Vestibular neuritis causes inner ear damage so that the brain begins receiving unbalanced signals from the inner ears. The brain needs to learn to cope with those mismatched signals in order to maintain balance. I followed those instructions and stuck with my routine, planning to see a doctor if things didn’t improve or got worse. Even into 2018, I thought I was fine and had “recovered”. When I started having what seemed to be symptoms of inner ear problems later that year, I remembered my inner ear research and asked my primary care doctor for a referral to an ENT. His testing came back negative, but I was on the right track. Late in 2020, I connected with a clinic which could do additional testing. At the beginning of this year, doctors there found inner ear damage on my right side. While I’ve managed to find many ways to cope with the issues being caused by the damage, I’m still hopeful for more treatment options and am currently seeing a neurologist.

While the internet contains a wealth of information about all kinds of health topics, it’s important to use good judgment and make sure you’re getting reliable information. One of the topics I had some difficulty researching due to the wealth of misinformation on the internet is MTHFR. One of the biggest claims made on many of the sites devoted to MTHFR is that folic acid is generally harmful for those with MTHFR variants. I have MTHFR variants and have had zero issues eating foods or taking supplements containing folic acid. I found that I had to stick to research articles and legitimate medical sites in order to get reliable information about MTHFR and folic acid. Another caveat is to make sure you see a doctor when needed about medical issues you’re experiencing. The internet is a great way to gather ideas that you can then take to your doctor to discuss possible causes for the issues you’re experiencing. A doctor would be the one to make the correct diagnosis and come up with the proper treatment.

I definitely encourage anyone to use the internet to research causes of their health issues. I’ve found it to be a very valuable tool in my journey to good health. However, make sure that you use good judgment with the information you find and that you use trusted sources. Also, be sure to see your doctor about your health issues or concerns when needed so that you can receive the correct diagnosis and treatment.

 

Five effective habits to help with weight loss (Robin Camp)

Robin Camp works as tech support for an Orthodontic Practice Management Software company called New Horizons Software ( www.nhsoftware.com). As a professional photographer on the side, Robin does fashion, glamour weddings and more in his spare time (www.dancingwithlightphoto.com). You can also now find him working out on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/fitittech/.

 

1) Use small plates when serving yourself if you have the option. It may seem ridiculous, but we tend to judge serving size based on the plate, so most people put more on the larger plate than a smaller one.

2) Due to the miracle of the internet, we can look up calorie content of anything fairly quickly. Drink sweet coffee drinks regularly? Espresso drinks range from 60 calories to 1200. Check out your beers and mixed drinks too. Simply taking the time to assess our diets often helps solidify the habits and makes it easier to back off indulgences.

3) Some of us grew up being told if we didn’t clean our plates that somehow children in Africa would starve. Because of this we learned to clean our plate regardless of whether we are actually hungry or not. Focus on when you are pleasantly full, than put the leftovers in the fridge. Even if it tastes really good, it’s ok to have leftovers.

4) Look at what you eat for pleasure. Figure out which of those snacks you won’t actually miss. Purging our diets of the sweet stuff that we won’t miss, is a simple tool. After evaluating you may be surprised by how much you eat when you are bored when you start assessing what you can and can’t live without.

5) Remember the primary rule of dieting, moderation. Too many people assume that you can’t eat anything enjoyable, this is not true. A proper diet focuses on moderation not the obliteration of every enjoyable food.

-No matter the situation, never let your emotions overpower your intelligence.- (Source unknown)

 

Fishy fish oil: when to supplement (Lana Khazari)

Lana Khazari is a Technical Support Analyst for the Corporation of City of Windsor, Ontario, Canada. She is also a Precision Nutrition Coach, Personal Trainer, Fitness Instructor and a Yoga 200-RYT Instructor. You can find her online at lanakharazi.com.

 

Years ago, I signed up with my first online coach. I remember the coach handing me over a supplementation list, and I was like, WTF. The list included probiotics, omega 3’s, vitamin C, vitamin D, and protein powder. I did not understand why I needed all this. All I wanted to do was lose some weight. To top it all off, it cost over $200/month in addition to my already costly coaching fees.

Little did I know that I didn’t need any of that. This bulleted list below contains the “big rocks.” These are questions one needs to ask themselves before opening the wallet up for pills, bottles, or a tub of protein.

  • Are you practicing 80-90% consistency?
  • Are you eating slowly and mindfully?
  • Are you engaging in 4-5 hrs of regular exercise of varying intensities?
  • Are you choosing primarily whole foods and minimally processed foods?
  • Are you consuming food quantities that match your needs?
  • Are you set up with a macronutrient ratio for your needs and activity level?
  • Are you sleeping 7 hrs of high-quality sleep a night?
  • Are you engaging in plenty of parasympathetic-dominant activities (i.e., rest and recovery)?
  • Are you engaging in lots of low-intensity daily activities (i.e., cleaning, fidgeting, walking dog)?
  • Are you living in a healthy physical and social environment?
  • Are you removing all crucial limiting factors?
  • Are you engaging in behaviors that match your goals, values, and priorities?
  • Are you focused on taking action right now?

Before any supplementation recommendations for my clients, these questions are a must. It is always crucial for me to consider the individual client’s needs, interests, and abilities.

Please understand that the “fix” doesn’t come in a pill or a bottle. And that it can be inappropriate to consider supplementation. Supplementation is ALWAYS in addition to the above. Assigning supplementation upfront, the way my past coach did, left me with a false impression that this was necessary to lose weight. And the supplement industry wants you to believe this as well! One should supplement for specific needs and interests and under particular circumstances.

One supplement that is of particular interest in the diet and bodybuilding world is fish oils. Let me tell you; there is nothing worse than digesting liquid fish oil. Pills are the better option here for ingestion. Either way, fish burps are worse than coffee breath. Aside from how terrible it tastes, there are potential benefits to boosting omega-3 fatty acids in the body. You can get omega-3 from capsules or from eating fish. It’s common in mackerel, salmon, and sardines.

Why Omega-3?

Research available shows Omega-3 fatty acids help improve body composition, helps increase immunity, aids in depression/anxiety, and helps reduce inflammation in the body.

Omega-3 fats consist of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Our body predominantly uses EPA/DHA because ALA doesn’t convert as well. Plant-based sources like flax are rich in ALA. Because ALA converts poorly, you want to address the diet as a whole before relying on flaxseed to be a sole source of omega-3. Animal sources (i.e., fish) and algae are rich in EPA/DHA.

How does Omega-3 work in the body?

Essential acids promote cell growth by helping to regulate what passes through the cell’s fatty membrane. This membrane is semi-permeable, and the fluidity there depends on the fatty acid composition of the diet. Fatty acids from omega-3 increase fluidity and important neurochemicals like serotonin (the feel-good mood-stabilizing hormone) can be transmitted easily. Too much-saturated fat in the diet, without omega-3s, means membranes are rigid.

Omega-3 are “good” fats and help cell repair and regeneration. Omega-3’s help muscle cells become more sensitive to insulin, and while fat cells decrease, the body can divert nutrients to the muscle. DHA and EPA increase metabolic health by increasing levels of enzymes that help boost calorie-burning ability.

Why might one consider fish oil supplements?

To improve cardiovascular function, nervous system function, brain health, and immune health. Low DHA consumption is associated with memory loss, difficulty concentrating, Alzheimer’s disease, and mood problems.

What does the research say?

Even though older studies showed improvements in cardiovascular health, more recently, one meta-analysis in JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) shows no association, especially in the form of “fish oil.” It even considers the effects of consuming more oily fish. Overall, there were no protective benefits for overall mortality, mortality, heart disease mortality, sudden cardiac death, heart attack, or stroke. It does show some protective benefits in a high-risk population with a low-moderate dose of fish oil. (1)

If we no longer consider omega-3 for cardiovascular health, we may still consider it for brain health. There is evidence to support an increase in memory from DHA supplementation. One study shows improved memory and reaction time in healthy, young adults whose diets were low in DHA (2).

Recommended dosage

The minimum recommended dosage is 900 mg/day. The average North American only gets about 300 mg/day of EPA and DHA, 1/3 of the recommendation. Therefore, 3-9 g of fish oil (or 2g algae oil) would include 1-3 g of EPA + DHA would bring one above the minimum recommended dosage. There has been increasing concern about the safety of fish oils and contamination with PCBs and other pollutants. Since those findings, the FDA says 3 g/day is fine. The European food safety authority figures that up to 6 g/day is completely safe.

Recommendations may be inappropriate for those on blood-thinning medications or aren’t simultaneously trying to reduce their omega-6 intake. Existing omega-6’s, “bad” fats, will compete for omega-3’s for cell spaces and attention of enzymes. The ideal ratio is 1:1, with 3:1 being more realistic. With our poor american diet, we are now closer to 1:20.

To reduce omega-6, one should try:

  • Avoiding the use of vegetable oils high in omega-6 like sunflower, soy, corn, safflower, and cottonseed, and avoid fried foods in restaurants that almost always use these oils (cheaper)
  • Avoid or significantly reduce processed foods
  • Eat more green leafy plants on top of a whole-food diet

Supplementation may suit those that need precision. One may want to increase metabolism by increasing levels of enzymes that boost calorie-burning ability. Or for those who may want more help in reducing triglycerides. But, you can correct each scenario without supplements.

The 2012 JAMA study showed the benefit of this popular supplement is limited. Also, as with all dietary supplements, they are highly unregulated for source, quality, or amount of active ingredients. Some studies detected trace amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in some brands. These are linked to cancer and found in fish exposed to water contaminated with soil runoff.

Execute extreme caution when considering supplements. If needed, only use very high-quality fish oils, preferably algae-based oils that are pollutant-free. EPA and EHA originate in algae, which fish consume, so you can’t get better than the source! Please consult a physician for anyone with serious health complications, and that should consider omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. And if you are going to shop, shop smart with https://labdoor.com/. Labdoor independently buys and tests supplements.

My recommendations are flax seeds alongside a healthy diet. Flaxseeds are still one of the richest sources of omega-3’s. When in doubt, always go back to those “big rocks.”

REFERENCES:

Rizos EC, Ntzani EE, Bika E, Kostapanos MS, Elisaf MS. “Association between omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and risk of major cardiovascular disease events: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” JAMA. 2012;308( 10): 1024– 33.

W Stonehouse, C A Conlon, J Podd, S R Hill, A M Minihane, C Haskell, D Kennedy. DHA supplementation improved both memory and reaction time in healthy young adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 May;97(5):1134-43.

 

Take ownership of where you are at (Kris Kane)

Kris Kane is a North Yorkshire based personal trainer, martial arts instructor and general fitness enthusiast. You can find him on Instagram at @koachedbykris and also view him professionally on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/kris-kane.

 

Reinforcing that there’s no shame in putting on weight, let’s face it most of us have in the last year!

This is common in such stressful times.

But there comes a point where if you know your health and wellness isn’t where you want it to be, that you decide to make a change.

What can you do?

  1. Accept where you are at
  2. Take ownership of it
  3. Plan where you want to be
  4. Make yourself accountable to see it through

Your body got you through a pandemic.

Now respect and future proof it as best you can.

–Kris

 

Send us your feedback!

Got feedback about anything in this issue of FitITproNews? Email us today!

 

The Toolbox

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Bvckup 2 is light, versatile data replication software:

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CommandTrayHost is a Command Line program monitor systray for Windows:

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f.lux lets you automatically adjust your computer screen to match lighting:

https://justgetflux.com/

Ninite is the easiest, fastest way to update or install software:

https://ninite.com/

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