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An Interview with Dr. Brad Metzler
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, many of us who are lucky enough to be able to work at home were thrilled by the flexibility, but also figured we'd be back to the office in a month or two. Fast forward six months later and we're still working at our dining room table in sweatpants… that's 2020 for you. Since many of us are still working from home for the rest of the year (and maybe even longer…), it's important to take a critical look at our set up for work. A lot of the time home workplaces are less than ideal ergonomic setups, which can lead to poor posture, eye strain, and back pain and more.
That's where Dr. Brad Metzler comes in! He's a chiropractor and certified ergonomic specialist who focuses on whole body care with an emphasis on ergonomics and movement. As well as having a private practice in San Francisco, Dr. Metzler works at Crossover Health as an in-house chiropractor/ergonomist for companies like Facebook and Square.
Dr. Brad Metzler, chiropractor and certified ergonomic specialist
We sat down with Dr. Metzler to ask him his thoughts on home workplace setups, how to improve your work setup, and why ergonomics is important for everyone, including ergonomics for kids who are distance learning
Because Health: Thanks for talking with us today! Can you tell us about your ergonomics work? Why are ergonomics important?
Dr. Brad Metzler: I started focusing on ergonomics after I noticed many of the issues my patients were experiencing were due to their faulty workspace and how they interacted with their work environment. Many employees are spending a large portion of their time at a desk with little movement throughout the day. I realized that addressing poor workplace design was key to helping them achieve their health goals. The goal of ergonomics is to make a person the most efficient at their workspace; I view it as examining both the hardware (equipment) and software (how the person interacts with workspace).
BH: Many people are now working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What are some common ergonomic problems associated with working from home?
BM: The common ergonomic problems stemming from WFH include neck, upper back, and low back pain. Many people feel they don't have the right space or equipment to be set-up properly to work from home. People are used to the standard cubicle or office setting.
BH: It sounds like many would benefit from improving their home workplace setups. What are your top tips for home ergonomics?
BM: Some of my favorite tips include:
BH: Great tips! Love the visualizations and how easy they are to remember. Do you have any creative hacks for how to get a better ergonomic set up without spending a lot of money on new furniture?
BM: I tend to put more emphasis on software (microbreaks and proper biomechanics) than hardware (equipment). The most important equipment to have is a basic but functional wireless keyboard and mouse or trackpad. With these relatively inexpensive devices you can hack your workstation and will give you versatility to work from multiple places.
You can hack the rest of your workspace using household goods to make any space work! It doesn't take much to improve your ergonomics. An ironing board can magically become an adjustable desk, a game box or books can be a laptop riser, a pillow to raise your chair height, you can use your kitchen counter as a standing desk…. All you need is a little creativity!
BH: We can feel our setup getting better already! Now onto overall health. What are some ways you stay healthy throughout the work day?
BM: Microbreaks are key to staying healthy throughout the day. A microbreak is taking a brief break every 20-30 minutes for 30-60 seconds to do some type of movement-based stretch or strengthening exercise. This could be some squats, stretching out your hip flexor, squeezing your shoulder blades together, stretching your neck, or looking out the window at a far distance to decrease eye strain.
BH: We've got ergonomics for adults down now, but what about children? Many kids are stuck at home doing distance learning via Zoom. Are ergonomics also important for kids?
BM: The same principles apply to children and their remote learning environment. The great thing about kids is they get fidgety and move frequently which is one of the reasons they have less pain than adults. Movement is medicine!
BH: Who knew fidgeting was beneficial?! That's great. What should parents look out for when designing a remote learning area for kids at home?
BM: Have them avoid using just a laptop, phone or tablet, as there is no good ergonomic position with just these devices alone. Consider getting a wireless keyboard and mouse/trackpad. Now is a great time to educate them on proper biomechanics, alternating sit/stand and incorporating movement into their long study hours. Trying to ingrain these principles now will pay major dividends in the future. Parents can also advocate for their teachers to incorporate proper posture and breathing and movement breaks into their classes as well.
BH: What else can I do to ensure my kids' bodies stay healthy when they are in front of the screen learning all day?
BM: Make sure to have them switch positions frequently, take microbreaks, and move! Remember the amount of movement your child typically gets from commuting to/from school, recess, and moving from class to class and now they are stuck on a screen all day. Get creative and have them move outside or inside. Races, scavenger hunts, obstacle courses... whatever you need to do to get them to move even if it's just for 5 minutes before another virtual class.
BH: And finally… what's the #1 most important thing you recommend to your patients to maintain a healthy body and prevent work related injuries?
BM: We are meant to move! Your best posture is your next posture. Keep moving!
This election, environmental health is on the ballot
Like many things this year, this election season has been anything but ordinary. With the emergence of COVID-19, the barrage of tropical storms hitting the Gulf and Atlantic coasts (1,2), in addition to the relentless wildfires raging in the Western US (3), the connection between the environment and our health is more apparent than ever. The impacts of climate change have become hard to ignore and many Americans are now beginning to feel its effects (4,5,6). Additionally, with the increased focus on health because of the coronavirus pandemic, issues of air, water, and soil pollution and healthy buildings are taking center stage in many people's daily lives.
You probably know that Election Day is coming up on November 3rd, 2020 and that mail-in ballot voting is already underway in more than half the states (7), but did you know that environmental health issues are on the ballot? Voting this election year has never been more important in helping decide how our country moves forward to address widespread environmental health concerns that affect your health and your family's health. Read on to find out what you can do to help and why this issue is so important.
While we all want clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, ensuring this for everyone requires proper environmental safeguards to better protect public health. As we've already seen this year with the increase in tropical storm and wildfire damages, there is a direct effect on people's health caused by their surroundings, whether it be in the form of air pollution, flooding, or smoke (8). Many people may not think that the presidential election will impact their lives in a real and tangible way, but who wins can have a big impact on environmental policies. In his first term, Trump has already moved to roll back and dismantle up to 100 environmental regulations passed by his predecessor, Obama, meant to further safeguard and protect the environment and human health (9,10,11). Notable repeals have included the Clean Air Act, the Clean Power Plan, as well as the Waters of the US Rule (12). These rollbacks have resulted in reduced fuel efficiency standards for passenger cars and light trucks, the repeal of a rule requiring coal-burning power plants to reduce carbon emissions, and a decrease in the number of federally protected bodies of water under the Clean Water Act (12). Other environmental regulations that have been targeted for repeal focus on controlling greenhouse gases, coal ash waste, water pollution, mercury, and smog (11).
Rolling back environmental regulations such as these go against the scientific recommendations of scientists who advocate for the enforcement of these standards to combat air pollution and its health hazards (25). Air pollution, caused in part by greenhouse gas emissions (26, 27), is a dangerous health threat that is responsible for a rising number of deaths around the world due to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, ischemic heart disease, stroke, and respiratory infections (28, 29, 25). The Global Burden of Disease report identified air pollution as one of the leading risk factors for disease burden in 2012, and in 2016 the WHO labeled it the single largest environmental health risk we face today (29, 28). Trump's denial of climate change (13) and encouragement of wider fossil fuel use and development within the US (14) not only goes against strong scientific consensus and advice (25, 28), but also risks increasing air pollution-related health hazards and mortalities.
There are many ways in which a new administration could bolster much needed environmental health protections. Biden has proposed a plan focusing on clean energy production to shift the US away from its dependence on fossil fuels and achieve a 100% clean energy economy with net-zero emissions by 2050 (15,16,17). Biden's plan also includes engaging with local areas to create community-based solutions to climate change issues, establishing an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the US Department of Justice to revise current environmental justice policy, and recommitting the US to the Paris Agreement that Trump initially withdrew from in 2017 (16,18,19,20). By transitioning away from fossil fuels and prioritizing clean energy, this would reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere and help strengthen the US's response to global warming (27). Since climate change has a direct effect on people's environmental health, directly combatting it would help ensure cleaner air, safer drinking water, sufficient food, and more secure shelter for everyone (30). Reducing greenhouse gas emissions would also help ease the burden of ambient air pollution, which causes nearly 3 million deaths every year (30).
These regulatory decisions have far-reaching impacts that go beyond a single presidency, and one of the most important ways citizens can make their voices heard on these issues is to vote in the upcoming national election in November.
While large national elections have historically had higher turnout compared to state and local elections, it's actually these closer-to-home elections that decide how a community deals with important local issues (21). In local elections, citizens vote for a mayor, city council members, special districts, school board members, and a District Attorney, among others, to deal with local and countywide ballot measures (24). Local issues include land use and development, housing, transportation policies, parks and libraries investment, and even immigration policies to an extent (24). Electing leaders who care about climate change and environmental stewardship at the local level is just as important as national elections.
Not only are these local issues crucial to the functioning of a community, but local and state regulations can also have a big impact at the national level, especially when it comes to consumer protections. For example, California just enacted the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act this past month, which bans 24 toxic ingredients from cosmetic and personal care products. It's likely that product manufacturers will make these non-toxic products and sell them throughout the US so that they don't have to make a separate version just for California. Other times, federal and state policymakers look at the success of local ordinances when drafting new environmental protections. So make sure your voice is heard on issues you care about and don't forget to vote in your local elections as well!
If you are over the age of 18 and a US citizen, you are legally allowed to vote—huzzah! Here are a few things you can do to make sure you're able to properly participate in the election process and make the most out of your experience.
If you are not yet 18 or are not a US citizen, no worries! You can still get involved and help out. Here are some great ways to start flexing your political muscle if you're not yet ready to vote.
Whatever your choice or stance, voting is one of the key pillars in American democracy that helps society function in a way that should be representative of all. Your vote matters and is a way to let the government know your position on the issues you care about and what you find important. With so many things that may seem out of our control this year, there is one thing that we do have control over—our vote! We'll see you at the polls this November.
Why some masks and materials are better than others
There's no denying COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down. And new rules and social norms have only added to the confusion caused by the pandemic. Since it was discovered that COVID-19 is transmitted through droplets and small airborne particles, face masks have become a part of our everyday lives. Whether we're running out to the grocery store or meeting up with a friend for socially-distanced coffee, face masks are a critical part of keeping society safe as we navigate our way through this pandemic.
Face masks now come in a wide array of colors, designs, and fabrics so you can have some personal style while staying safe. But not all masks are created equal. There's actually a big difference in how well certain materials can protect you. And since masks prevent you from getting others sick and others from getting you sick, we want all the protection we can get! We break down which face masks are best and which you should probably skip.
N95 respirator masks are usually considered to be the "gold standard" for face masks. In pre-covid times, you'd usually use an N95 mask if you were doing a heavy-duty DIY project or in the middle of a big wildfire. If fitted correctly, N95 masks have the ability to reduce droplet transmission to below 0.1% (2). That's why, at the beginning of the pandemic, they were almost exclusively being used by medical workers on the frontlines of COVID-19 and hospitals were asking for donations for these specific types of masks. There is one caveat though- N95 masks with a front valve only protect the person wearing it. The valve allows particles to escape from the mask, which could lead to others becoming infected (2). If your N95 does have a front valve, you could wear another mask over it to limit exhaled air. But if you have a choice- always buy a N95 mask without a valve!
There are plenty of mask options beyond N95 masks that will do a superb job at protecting you and others from COVID-19 infection. Researchers have been hard at work trying to determine the most effective masks on the market. Many agree that N95 masks are the best at filtering out particles, while well-fitted surgical masks, masks made from a hybrid of fabrics, and cotton masks all effectively reduce droplet transmission (3-7).
Surgical masks are traditionally used in hospitals to act as a barrier against fluid and offer protection to workers, but they're now a go-to option for people looking for a disposable mask to protect against COVID-19. The multiple layers of non-woven meltblown fabric make these masks really effective at filtering. They're a good face mask option because they're relatively easy to find now and can be pretty inexpensive!
Cotton is an excellent material for a face mask because it's widely available, natural, and breathable. Plus, it's machine washable! But it's important to look for a high thread count cotton mask rather than a low one. Cotton with "higher threads per inch" and "tight weaves" had better filtration effects than loosely woven fabric (4).
A hybrid of fabrics like cotton and silk, cotton and chiffon, cotton and flannel are also great options for a mask. The mix of fabrics helps create an electrostatic effect that improves filtration (4,6). Silk is "particularly effective at excluding particles in the nanoscale regime (<∼100 nm), while filtration effects for cotton/chiffon and cotton/flannel "was >80% (for particles <300 nm) and >90% (for particles >300 nm)" (4).
Whether you're clicking "buy it now" or getting crafty with a DIY project, surgical masks, cotton, or a hybrid fabric all offer solid protection against COVID-19. You can also get creative with different colors and patterns to show off your unique sense of style. But make sure to buy one that's comfortable! What's the point of buying that sequin-y, glitter-y, leopard print mask if it'll just stay in your dresser drawer?!
While wearing a face mask is always better than going without one, some masks are better than others. Makeshift masks often provide very little protection when compared to proper masks. Gaiters and bandanas had "substantial amounts" of droplet particles detected outside of the mask (3), and researchers looking at common household items you could use as a mask found that a scarf wrapped around the face did the worst at preventing infection (5). It's also crucial to make sure your mask fits your face properly. Even if it's made from one of our recommended materials, an ill-fitted mask can result in "over a 60% decrease in the filtration efficiency" (4).
Any mask is better than no mask, regardless of the material it's made out of. Masks are a crucial part of keeping everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. N95s, surgical masks, and masks made from cotton or a hybrid fabric are all great choices, but it's important to experiment with different mask styles and materials to find the one that works best for you. If your mask is comfortable, you'll probably wear it more!
Stay moisturized without feeling sticky, slippery, or like you're covered in chemicals with these natural lotion options
Colder weather is coming, which means so is dry skin. Ugh! Usually we'd just grab whatever is on sale at the drugstore, but all body lotion is not created equal. In fact, traditional body lotions can contains some harmful chemicals that could be absorbed through your skin. Many lotions also contain petroleum products, which is something we also like to steer clear of. That's why we did the research and found you the best non-toxic body moisturizers and lotions that are well reviewed and readily available.
DIY Pest Solutions, Integrated Pest Management, and More
Everyone wants to have a place to call home, somewhere you can eat, sleep and hangout with your friends and family. But people aren't the only ones who want a home - rodents, ants, mosquitos, flies and cockroaches do too! If you suddenly find yourself with a few new creepy crawly roommates, your default reaction may be to pick up the phone and have an exterminator come into your home to shoo them away.
However, let's first think about what that means for your home and health. Traditional exterminators may use many toxic chemicals to get rid of pests and should be your last resort instead of your first.
Thankfully, there are safer methods to clear your home of pests.
Most exterminators will go over the active ingredients in their pesticides and some will go over potential health effects, but that might not give you the full picture. It's super important to do your own research before hiring someone.
Pest exterminators can spray pesticides, herbicides and insecticides throughout the home (either inside and/or outside (16)) which can cause damage to health, particularly for children (13) and infants (8,14).
The most common active ingredients in insecticides are pyrethroids and pyrethrins which have been linked to increased risk of childhood cancer (11). And many insecticides are also composed of organophosphates and chlorpyrifos which have been linked to chronic neurological function (1), and neurodevelopmental issues (8).
If an exterminator tells you the products they use are safe after a couple of hours, that may not necessarily be true. Studies of chlorpyrifos have shown that residues persist for up to 2 weeks after a single broadcast application, with potential exposure to young infants reaching levels 100x greater than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended levels (15). Residual pesticide exposure is especially important if you have infants in your home, since minimal exposure can result in levels above the threshold of toxicological response in infants (12). Studies show this chronic level of exposure has been linked to risk of childhood leukemia (10).
The work done by pest control professionals - the routine extermination procedure and home treatment such as spraying pesticides - has shown an overall link between pesticide exposures and childhood cancers (10). We definitely don't want these chemicals unless we really have to.
It's easier than you think to prevent pests! Sometimes simple upgrades to your house or a new product are all you need. Here are some simple solutions for how to prevent pests at home and what to do if you have them.
1. Block Any Entry Points for Pests
Show your home some love. Take a day off and spend time doing the following:
Not sure where else pests could be coming from? Sometimes pest control professionals can help you identify their entrypoint and help you plug it up without having to fall back on spraying. Integrated pest management professionals (see below) are especially good at this.
2. Update Your Cleaning Routine
Pests seem to have a sixth sense for clutter and crumbs! A deep clean can help stop these unwelcome critters from getting too cozy.
3. Invest in Some New Products
We did some research and found some recommended safer products to use on your own:
If you live a busy life-style and don't have time for DIY's or if it's too late to take matters into your own hands, don't worry. IPM has your back.
What's IPM? It's a cost-effective holistic approach to eradicating pests from your home by taking into account which pests are in your home, how they got there, why they are there, and where they're coming from. IF chemicals are necessary, then companies will use products that are just as effective on the bugs but safe for humans and pets. But again, always do your own research! Look into any products an IPM company is recommending to make sure it's actually a safer choice or an EPA registered product. Studies have shown success in the implementation of IPM (3). Check out the WSPEHSU's helpful toolkit to avoid traditional chemically invasive pest control.
Dealing with pests can be overwhelming and frustrating but it's important to remember you have options! Calling an exterminator to spray your home with pesticides is not the only solution to getting rid of pests. There are better, safer solutions!
Hint: all squished up in your hand is NOT it
Sigh… we're spending a lot more time at home nowadays. And for some reason everything seems a lot dirtier than usual and we feel like we're cleaning 24/7. That's why we've been doing a ton of research into cleaning tricks and hacks! One subject that has come up over and over again is microfiber cloths.
Microfiber cloths have been our best friends these past couple of months, not only for dust bunnies but to make sure things are extra germ free during the coronavirus pandemic. If you don't know about microfiber cloths, listen up! These magic cleaning cloths really do work well and have been scientifically shown to reduce germs and cross contamination between surfaces (which is an especially good idea nowadays!). There's even a clever way to fold them to create 8 unique cleaning surfaces per cloth. Basically, they're amazing! Read on to learn why it's a good idea to clean with microfiber cloths, especially during a pandemic, and how to use and wash them the right way.
Microfiber is a special kind of extra soft and fuzzy fabric made of polyester and nylon super fine fibers that have a diameter of less than ten micrometres. That's a hundred times finer than human hair and even finer than silk fibers! Microfiber cloths and mop heads are widely used because these super fine fibers are really good at cleaning, even without any cleaning products. Millions of tiny fibers on a cloth have a slightly positive charge that actually attract dirt and dust (which are negatively charged) and dislodge them from surfaces. That's why when you dust with a microfiber cloth, it almost seems like it swoops up the dust particles without any resistance. And because the super fine fibers increase the surface area, microfiber cloths can absorb 7 times their weight in water, which is also really useful when cleaning up messes. The tiny fibers are also able to get into cracks and crevessaes, which also contributes to their superpower cleaning abilities.
All of these properties of microfiber cloths that make them really good at cleaning up dirt and grime, also make them an excellent choice for cleaning during the coronavirus pandemic. Studies have shown that microfiber cloths reduce the transfer of germs from surface to surface as compared to cotton cloths (1). Another study showed microfiber mops remove more germs from a surface without a disinfectant than a cotton mop did with a disinfectant (2). That's some super power! Microfiber cloths also dry fast, so there's less chance for bacteria growth if you don't immediately put them in the laundry.
Since microfiber cloths are so effective at cleaning on their own, this means that you can clean your house using less harsh cleaning products. Since cleaning products have been shown to reduce indoor air quality and damage lungs (3), anything that reduces their use is a good idea. Indoor air quality, lung health, and overall wellness are so important during the coronavirus pandemic.
Finally, the fact that microfiber cloths make cleaning much easier means that you're more likely to do it. Having a clean home and disinfecting when necessary are really important during the pandemic. In fact, the CDC recommends cleaning a surface before disinfecting; this combination is the best way to reduce the risk of infection. Dirt and grime can actually make some disinfectants not work properly and cleaning actually physically removes germs and dirt from surfaces or objects.
Knowing the correct way to use a microfiber cloth is crucial for maximum cleaning potential. It's important to keep microfiber cloths dry when you are dusting. That allows the static electricity to work the best at attracting dust. For other surfaces that need a bit of water or all purpose cleaner, don't over saturate the surface or cloth. It's also a good idea to color code your cloths for different uses (even more important if they are being used at schools or other facilities). This reduces the cross contamination risk even after you wash them. You don't want to accidentally clean your kitchen with a cloth you used on your toilet! And while you're cleaning, folding the cloths in half and then in half again and then using each side for a different surface is a great way to reduce cross contamination. You can get 8 separate surfaces this way! See our handy video or follow the instructions below.
Microfiber cloths can be washed in the washing machine using warm or cold water, and can be reused many many times. However, if you wash them with cotton cloths or your normal clothes, the fibers can get gunked up with stuff that will make them less effective. It's a good idea to create a separate laundry basket for your microfiber cloths and wash them alone. Make sure to avoid using fabric softeners and bleach when laundering microfiber cloths because they can damage the fibers. Microfiber cloths also dry very quickly, so hang them to dry, or dry them on low in your dryer.
Perhaps you have heard about the microfiber pollution problem? If you haven't, basically little microfibers (which are essentially plastic) are being released into our rivers and oceans through our laundry (4)! Fleece and lots of other clothing contain synthetic fibers, which can shed while they're being washed. While this is a problem that scientists are just beginning to discover and understand, we do know that they can cause hazardous effects in aquatic species. We don't know much about the human health effects yet, but scientists are working on it. Washing and using microfiber cloths does contribute to microfiber pollution, but they probably contribute less than everything else you wash. Since microfiber cloths reduce harsh cleaning chemical use and are more reusable and durable than cotton cloths, we still recommend them. Purchasing one less fleece or clothing item with synthetic fibers can offset the couple of microfiber cloths you need for cleaning your entire home! To reduce the potential for shedding, you can buy some microfiber trapping devices like the Cora ball and the Guppyfriend bag and use those when you are washing your microfiber cloths.
If you've read our pantry packaging materials article, you'll know that all packaging is not created equally. Traditional food packaging like plastic and cans can contain harmful chemicals like BPA, phthalates, or PFAS. That's why we recommend glass containers, cartons (like Tetra Paks), or paper whenever possible. And it's easier than you think to find pantry staples packaged in these materials!
Take beans, for example. Up until recently, you could basically only find beans in cans with BPA lining. Now they come in a wide variety of packaging, including Tetra Paks and glass jars! Our roundup features brands that are widely available; you'll have no problems finding these products in your local supermarket! And most of these brands carry many different kinds of beans! Jovial., for example, has organic chickpeas, cannellini, kidney, and borlotti beans in jars. Your pantry is about to get a major upgrade!
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