The best laptop bag for the job can come down to all sorts of factors, from what it’s carrying, where it’s being taken, what else it needs to contain and much more. But could it also have an impact on our health?
The Covid-19 pandemic brought with it a huge surge in the number of employees using laptops as they switched to remote working – and in turn the need for them to have the right equipment. While some may be returning to the office, either permanently or to work flexibly, the health impacts of carrying a laptop around using the wrong equipment aren’t going anywhere and are potentially more important than ever.
We spoke to Kate Meads, Director at Kate Meads Associates – a leading provider of occupational therapy services to clinical, private, corporate and public sectors across the UK – to understand why posture is so important to our physical and mental health and how carrying a laptop in the right way, using the right bag, can make all the difference.
Why is good posture important?
Posture – the way we hold our body when standing or sitting – is something most of us take for granted. But it can make a huge difference to both our physical and mental health, explains Kate. The benefits of good posture range from reduced tension and pain, to increased lung capacity and energy levels. “In terms of posture, we’re often not fully aware of our posture and the impact of poor posture in terms of our musculoskeletal system,” she explains.
Conversely, bad posture brings a whole range of physical and mental health issues, from back pain and headaches to reduced energy levels and reduced clarity of thought. All of these can affect every part of people’s lives, explains Kate, from their day-to-day living to their work and leisure time. In short – good posture matters, and it matters a lot.
Why is posture so important in the workplace and when commuting?
There are all sorts of causes of bad posture, says Kate, but good posture really matters in the workplace – especially for people who spend a lot of time sitting at a computer, or a badly-positioned laptop.
“It’s important to raise awareness of the postures that we tend to hold during our day,” she says. Say you’re commuting on the train – when it’s busy you’re squashed up, or maybe you’re working on your laptop on the train or holding your devices. If you hold that position you can feel that your back is tight.
“You then transition into work. You sit at a desk, don’t take a lunch break or you might dash out for lunch. You sit at your computer and think, ‘I’ve done five hours but I’ve got to get this done’, when actually what you should have done is 20-30 minutes blocks of work then stretch, hydrate, breathe. A lot of us tend to have that C-shaped posture from hunching over a computer with your shoulders in, tapping away.”
What are the negative effects of poor posture?
It might not sound like much, but the negative effects of poor posture are both broad-ranging and far-reaching, explains Kate. A common problem is a contraction of the trapezius muscle – the large muscle that sits across the upper back. “As it increases, your upper limb function can feel weaker,” says Kate. “Your in-hand dexterity – being able to manipulate your fingers – becomes harder. You’ll start to get headaches. Numbness and tingling in your arms.
“Also, poor posture means you’re not breathing properly. In turn that affects your cognition – your clarity of thinking. It’s a knock-on effect and will have an impact on your productivity and impact your mood as well. Also, when you’re in pain it impacts on your emotional resilience, your tolerance, your ability to cope generally. It’s huge.”
What are the best laptop bags for good posture?
More people than ever carry their laptop and other equipment with them to work or move them from ‘office’ to ‘office’ as they work remotely. That means carrying everything without it having negative impacts on your health. But what’s the best tool for the job – a messenger bag, a case with wheels, or are backpacks good for posture?
“Your ideal is a backpack or pushalong,” says Kate. “If you’re carrying a laptop generally you’re carrying some other devices as well or maybe paperwork. Backpacks are brilliant if they’re compact and not too heavy. With briefcases and messenger-type bags, if they’re long enough to go across the body then that’s a better position than on one shoulder but I do find the best are really backpacks and the pushalong trolleys – not the pull-alongs but those that have the swivel wheels that you can push in front of you because that’s quite a good position to maintain. Backpacks are definitely the best option in terms of weight distribution and also supporting the shoulders.”
What is the best way to carry a laptop bag for good posture?
A backpack may be best when it comes to maintaining good posture, but it’s still important to carry it right. As Kate explains, the wrong backpack carried the wrong way can still result in posture problems.
“It’s about even distribution, it’s about having as much as close to the body as possible. If you have a bag with lots of pouches they will be filled, so the center of gravity for the individual shifts and you can end up a bit like a tortoise on its back. It’s about having things close.
“Holding a backpack that’s heavy slung over one shoulder isn’t great. What I say to people is you’re better off having the strap long enough so you can put it across your body, which is better than having it slung over one shoulder because if it’s heavy it can cause issues.”