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Workrave Helps Fend Off Repetitive-Strain Injuries

Too much time at a PC can wreak havoc on your joints and muscles. This handy helper reminds you to take breaks

Do you spend a good chunk of your day sitting at a desk, staring at a computer screen and tapping away at a keyboard? If so, you're at risk for a repetitive-strain injury, or RSI, which can result from sitting in the same position for long periods or prolonged use of the hands, wrists, neck, etc.

The remedy, as you might guess, is to take frequent breaks, to refocus your eyes away from your monitor, to give your arms and fingers a rest, and so on. Okay, but how can you remember to take these breaks, and what exercises can you do to fend off RSIs?

Workrave is a free program that reminds you to take work breaks. It's basically a fancy countdown timer, one that pops up at designated intervals to encourage you to take micro-pauses (quick breaks every few minutes) and full-blown rests (like a 10-minute break once per hour). You can also configure Workrave for a daily work limit, meaning it will notify you after you've worked, say, eight hours.

What's interesting is that once a "break period" commences, Workrave locks out your keyboard so you can't type anymore. You can, of course, click the Skip or Postpone button if it's an inopportune moment, but that kind of defeats the purpose.

While you're taking any given break, you can click a coffee-cup icon for some guided at-your-desk exercises, like finger and shoulder stretches, eye-relaxation techniques, and so on.

This little app gives you full control over just about every setting, like how much time should elapse between micro-pauses, how long the "postpone" timer should last, and what sounds it should make (if any). There's even an option for network support, though I'm not exactly sure how (or why) that would work--and it's not explained anywhere in Workrave's terse FAQ.

Work is already tough on the brain; don't let it take a toll on your body as well. With Workrave working in the background, you'll never forget to give your joints and muscles the regular breaks they need to stay strong.

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