Seminar Report – January 9: The Healthy Freelancer – Self-Care for the Self-Employed

Self-care is of paramount importance to freelancers because most of us are entirely self-reliant when it comes to health benefits, from sick days to prescription medication and services such as physiotherapy, massage, chiropractic and psychotherapy.

Our speakers offered a wide range of self-care strategies that can help the self-employed prevent and manage everything from physical aches and pains to energy levels.

Kathy Kawaja, principal ergonomics consultant, Human Factors North - 

A Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomist (CCPE) with 24 years of experience in the physical aspects of applied ergonomics, Kathy analyzes and assesses workplace musculoskeletal injury risk. She also provides expertise for design projects, ergonomics programming and legal cases.

What’s the best posture for writers who spend most of their work time sitting at computer workstations? Kathy points out that the best posture is a variety of postures, but also notes that the height of your keyboard and mouse is critical. When your arms are at your sides with a 90⁰ angle at the elbow, your hands should cover the keyboard and mouse. Ideally, the keyboard is adjustable and accommodates a neutral position or a slight negative tilt.

Safe mousing requires a straight line from your middle finger through the centre of your wrist without a bend at the wrist. On the desk, the display screen or monitor should be positioned at arm’s length with extended fingertips. The top of the text should be at eye level so that the main viewing area of your documents is 15 degrees below that. This is easiest on your eyes and neck and upper back posture.

If you use a laptop, over time, you are likely to face issues in your neck, upper back, and shoulder muscles because you’re constantly looking down to view the screen. Kathy recommends adding an external keyboard and mouse along with a laptop stand to position the screen at the correct height.

A sit-stand workstation – either a full sit-stand unit (manual or powered) or a desk conversion kit – plus an anti-fatigue floor mat is also a viable option that offers maximum adjustability. Remember that standing for more than an hour at a time can result in back pain. Most experts suggest alternating between sitting and standing every 45 to 60 minutes. Don’t wait until you experience discomfort in your body to change positions, and consider moving every 20 minutes.

Kathy also shared these tips on how to make “micropauses” part of your day:

  • Take short, frequent breaks or pauses from repetitive or prolonged activities
  • Each break should be 30 seconds to one minute long; take one every 30-45 minutes
  • Stand up to take phone calls that don’t require using your computer
  • If you work in an office, walk to a colleague’s desk rather than sending them an email
  • Break up prolonged sitting to do non-sitting tasks
  • Go for a walk
  • Eat lunch away from your desk
  • S-T-R-E-T-C-H
  • Rest your eyes by cupping, blinking, or looking at a distant object
  • Adjust the angle of your chair’s backrest throughout the day


Lorne Opler, instructor of Fitness and Health Promotion, Centennial College and Humber College -

Lorne runs a mobile personal training business and writes for Muscle and Fitness Magazine and IDEA Fitness Journal.   

Upfront, Lorne tells you that he finds the word exercise “heavy, obligatory, difficult, boring and judgmental” and far prefers the term movement.

Why? Because we all move – it’s human nature. He encourages people to just get up and “move”.

His total body resistance workout helps you stay fit when you sit at a computer most of the day because prolonged sitting is implicated in a range of chronic diseases. In fact, a 2015 University of Toronto study found that even those who exercise up to an hour a day, but spend much of the day sitting, are no more immune to chronic disease.

Standing burns more calories than sitting (186 versus 139). Doing resistance exercises while standing at your desk will increase muscle mass, which also burns more calories.

Lorne has offered to share his presentation, which includes a full-body work complete with instructions and illustrations, with PWAC members.

If you want the PowerPoint deck, please contact Lorne at: [email protected], PH: 647-860-4838,

Cara Rosenbloom, registered dietitian, recipe developer, author and freelance writer –

Cara is a wellness columnist for The Washington Post and a contributor to Canadian Living, Chatelaine, Today’s Parent and other publications. She recently published her first cookbook, Nourish: Whole Food Recipes Featuring Seeds, Nuts and Beans (Whitecap, 2016).

First and foremost, Cara recommends staying away from fad diets that promise quick results if you focus on a particular food and eliminate others. Many of these diets make false promises and are not sustainable over the long term. Instead, she recommends an eating plan that’s filled with whole foods and minimizes processed foods.

To ensure your body gets the nutrients it requires, Cara recommends eating a well-balanced mix of fresh, unprocessed, whole foods:

  • Vegetables and fruit
  • Whole grains (like brown rice, quinoa and oats)
  • Beans, lentils, nuts and seeds
  • Lean protein such as fish, meat and chicken
  • Dairy foods like yogurt and cheese
  • Healthy fats like nuts, avocado, olive oil and salmon

When sitting down to a meal, think about the “balanced plate method.” Cara says “fill half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with whole grains, and a quarter with protein-rich foods like beans, tofu, meat, chicken or fish.”

Beverages should include plenty of water. Coffee and tea are good choices since both are 99% water (just limit coffee to 3-4 cups per day). Since sweetened beverages are the number one source of sugar in the Canadian diet, Cara says “eliminate or minimize your consumption of pop, iced tea, lemonade, fruit juice and other sweet drinks. Excess sugar (more than 12 teaspoons per day) is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.”

Cara says “the best way to eat a nutritious diet is to cook more often.” Grocery shop at least once a week and stock up on fresh, unprocessed whole foods from the list above. Fill your cart with whole foods first, then add a few convenient packaged foods to make weeknight meals more convenient. Items like canned beans, tuna, frozen veggies and whole-grain pasta are examples of packaged foods.

Minimize your purchases of processed foods, like deli meats, cookies, ice cream, chips, frozen meals and canned soups. They are often high in calories, fat, sugar, salt, additives and preservatives.

There’s still room for some indulgence in your diet! Try to follow the 80/20 rule: if you eat well 80 per cent of the time, you can enjoy treats 20 per cent of the time.