Let’s face it: being a computer geek isn’t the healthiest hobby in the world. Staring at that bright screen for hours at a time will affect our health in many ways. But there are many things you can do to improve your health without having to stop using your computer altogether.

Time your breaks with Workrave (Windows/Linux) or AntiRSI (Mac)
Workrave is a useful tool to keep track of how much time you spend on your computer. It nests itself in the taskbar and displays a countdown clock for your micro break, another one for your rest break and a third one for your daily time limit. I’ve configured my clocks as follows: a 20-second break every 15 minutes, a 3-minute break every 30 minutes and a daily limit of three hours.

Rather than using the daily limit timer as an actual maximum, I use it as a “guilt-free” time limit. I try not to go over it too much when possible. There are no scientifically recommended settings that work for everyone, but it is worth noting that it’s better to take smaller breaks more often than longer breaks less often. Workrave will also look at your mouse and keyboard activity to detect if you’re taking a break before Workrave even asked you to. Mac users might want to check out the Lifehacker article on a related program, AntiRSI.

exercise stretch.pngWhen on a break, do Workrave exercises
Aside from being an I-nag-because-I-care mom that urges you to take breaks regularly, Workrave also displays illustrated exercises during your rest breaks. They’re not that intensive, but they will help prevent repetitive strain injury.

Don’t forget to blink
Research has shown that when we’re focusing on our computer screens, we blink a lot less than usual. To avoid eye strain and dry eye, make sure you don’t forget to blink.

Adjust the refresh rate of your monitor
Wikipedia defines the refresh rate as the number of times in a second that display hardware draws the data. Simply put, the image on your screen needs to be refreshed at least 50 times per second or your monitor would flicker all the time. The higher the refresh rate of your screen is, the easier it gets for you to read a long paragraph. If you’re using a CRT monitor, the difference should be clear over the course of a few hours. Some people say that upping the refresh rate on an LCD monitor has little effect, but it’s certainly worth a shot if your monitor supports it.
Get OS-specific advice on changing the refresh rate for Windows, Mac and GNOME on Linux (scroll down to ‘Xorg 7.3′).

Mind the lighting
It can sure be interesting to be able to look out the window while you’re typing, but it’s a no-no in ergonomics. Too much bright light can cause eye strain, but on the other hand having too little light isn’t that comfortable either. On a related note, you might want to play around with your monitor’s brightness and contrast to find settings that feel good.

Impose an absolute limit of 8 hours a day
Our eyes and brains can only take so much. So unless your job makes this impossible you should limit your computer, game console and television usage to 8 hours a day.

Give e-ink technology a try
Unlike with conventional monitors, the image on electronic paper does not need to be refreshed constantly. There have been reports from people saying it reads more comfortably compared to the Steve Ballmer e-reader.