Rise and Shine

Contemporary work environments can pose serious health risks, so here are some tips for staying healthy while putting in a full day of reading images.rise and shine

A recent British study reported on the dangers of sitting down all day. Researchers found that remaining sedentary for long stretches of time increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and ultimately death, even if the person in question exercises regularly.

In addition to sitting, other workplace hazards include eyestrain, the effects of repetitive motion, and the temptation to skip meals. Since radiologists are required to sit and review images for hours on end, they can fall prey to many of these health pitfalls. But there are methods of combating the forces of inactivity that, when practices consistently, can promote a healthy workday.

Get Up, Stand Up

Since it is sometimes hard to remember to take a break from the workstation, providing an incentive can help. Eliot L. Siegel, MD, FACR, professor and vice chair of the University of Maryland School of Medicine's department of diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine, says that he takes several short breaks throughout the day. During these breaks, he says, "I get a quick snack, participate in a three-minute game of speed chess, or talk a walk around the department and talk with our patients and staff."

Getting up periodically and walking around helps build up enzymes in the body that are responsible for removing fat from the bloodstream, a very positive effect. Anand M. Prabhakar, MD, an interventional radiology fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, sticks to a set routine when it comes to taking breaks. "I make a point to try to get up for a few minutes every hour," he explains, noting that he prefers frequent small breaks to fewer, longer ones.

Sometimes, burning calories is as easy as getting yourself a cup of coffee. Sharonne N. Hayes, MD, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., takes every opportunity she can during her busy work day to get up and move around. For instance, if she needs some caffeine to keep her going, instead of getting coffee from a pantry area on whichever floor she happens to be on, she will make a point of walking to the clinic's cafeteria to do so.

When traveling for work, Hayes says she sets up her computer on a countertop or, if one is not available, an ironing board in order to stand while typing. While she does not substitute standing for vigorous exercise, standing burns more calories than does sitting. "I've made more of an effort over the past three years to move around more while working," she says, noting that she never takes elevators when she can avoid it, opting instead for the stairs.

Rules to Live By

In addition to sitting for long periods, several other health threats exist in the workplace. One of these hazards is eyestrain. Looking at images on a computer screen all day can negatively affect eyesight, one of the radiologist's most important attributes. To keep his eyes fit, Siegel observes the so-called 20/20/20 rule. "I try to look 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes or so," he explains. Prabhakar admits that he does not actively fight eyestrain while reading images, stating that more research should be done to understand the benefits to radiologists of adjusting computer monitor luminance to optimal levels.

In addition to developing eyestrain, engaging in repetitive motions is also a trap many radiologists fall into. Performing the same motions many times throughout the workday can, in time, cause repetitive motion disorders such as bursitis and tendinitis. At the University of Maryland, Siegel and his colleagues designed a "Radiology Reading Room of the Future," a prototype research and clinical environment located at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, where they have experimented with different parameters to optimize radiologist efficiency. One issue they dealt with was minimizing repetitive motions, such as typing and using a computer mouse. They have experimented with a wide variety of alternatives, including a rolling cylinder at the base of the keyboard and multi-touch interactive monitors. They even experimented briefly with prototype head-mounted EEG devices that monitored the brain waves and translated them into workstation commands. Siegel and his colleagues found that the best solutions involved offering chairs with lumbar support whose overall height and armrests could be adjusted and keyboards with variable height and position features.

Muscle stretches can also help alleviate the aches and pains that come with overuse of fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Hayes says that when she starts feeling pain in her shoulders, she will do neck stretches and shoulder rolls at her desk. She goes on to note that taking every opportunity to exercise throughout the day "helps to release tension."

Sedentary work habits don't just threaten the eyes and the hands; they can also affect nutrition. Missing meals is often a result of putting in an intense day at the office, but it doesn't have to be that way. Hayes eats two small meals at work everyday, consisting of coffee and toast or cereal for breakfast, and then a salad, sandwich, or bowl of soup for lunch. Between getting her proper nutritional intake and exercising whenever possible, she says she feels the health benefits in the form of increased productivity.

Prabhakar believes that eating nutritional foods improves his work performance. "I try to eat local, seasonal produce as much as possible," he says. "I definitely feel that eating well helps my alertness." He adds that in addition to good eating habits, staying hydrated helps him stay productive.

Although it is often not possible to tailor the work environment exactly to a person's health needs, there are many things that can be done to overcome these obstacles. Research has shown that moving around whenever possible, altering chair and keyboard configurations, and eating regular nutritious meals can go a long way toward enhancing productivity. From taking short breaks to changing the computer monitor's luminance levels, small adjustments during the workday can make a big difference in personal health.

Read more about ergonomics and radiology in "Perpetual Motion" in the May 2012 ACR Bulletin at http://bit.ly/PerpetualMotion.


By Chris Hobson

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