If only your great-great-grandfather could see you now, as you type away on your computer without even looking at the keyboard! It’s hard to tell. But upon overcoming the initial shock of seeing you with that mysterious contraption, the realization that you’re essentially sitting for a living would certainly leave him flabbergasted, and that’s putting it mildly. We enjoy a higher level of comfort in a single day than our ancestors could ever have hoped to experience in a lifetime.
But there is a glaring disadvantage to an office job: it can turn into a sedentary life before you know it. It’s ironic, really: we can hardly keep up with the latest technology developing at breakneck speed, yet most of us are doomed to inactive lifestyles due to being chained to the desk day in, day out. And that can come at a hefty price.
So what are the most common health risks of sedentary jobs and how do you prevent your desk job from wreaking havoc on your body?
Toxic indoor air and the Sick Building Syndrome
The energy efficiency in your fancy modern office building could be messing with your health due to poor air circulation, one of the key causes of the notorious Sick Building Syndrome. And sadly, that’s not all.
The lack of ventilation in tightly sealed office buildings means that the germs from your co-worker who seems to be coming down with a particularly nasty case of the flu have nowhere to go but circulate throughout the office.
If working from home is not an option even during flu season, make sure to use your break to get some fresh air.
Pollution from light and electronic devices
Ever came home absolutely exhausted yet had a hard time falling asleep? Your office job could be to blame. All that distracting technology and the aggressive, unnatural lighting in most offices can interfere with the body’s natural sleep cycle, as well as cause issues such as headaches and chronic stress and fatigue.
To make matters worse, printers and photocopiers may emit dangerous particles into the office air, which is detrimental to your health in its own right.
Unhealthy eating habits
Working long hours combined with excessive sitting spells trouble for your health in more ways than one, and your eating habits are no exception.
A desk job can take a toll on your diet. We get it, it’s not easy to maintain a healthy diet if you are swamped with work. But give it a shot and put some time into planning ahead. For instance, take some time during the weekend to prep a week’s worth of balanced meals and healthy snacks.
Whenever possible, try to leave the desk for lunch instead of having your meal right then and there. Even if you leave your desk to go eat in the break room, you’ll have the opportunity to take a short walk and stretch your legs. Every little bit helps!
Wrist strain, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and computer elbow
It is not only due to prolonged sitting and the negative effects of a typical office environment that your office job can have a negative impact on your long-term health. Repetitive stress injuries such as desk or computer elbow (formerly known as tennis elbow) and the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are an increasingly common condition among office workers.
One way to counteract the resulting inflammation in your joints is to perform a prayer stretch from time to time, and try to hold your wrists as naturally as possible while typing. To learn how to recognize the symptoms of the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and similar conditions and find out whether you are eligible to apply for benefits and file a workers’ compensation claim, click here.
Lower back, shoulder and neck pain
It’s a painful truth that office workers everywhere learn early on: poor posture while sitting at the desk all day inevitably causes lower back pain. When you’re sitting all day, you are in an unnatural position which puts a strain on your back and makes your back and neck muscles tense. Regular stretching is a simple yet effective way to combat lower back pain and shoulder and neck pain, while maintaining good posture should help eliminate pain in the long term.
Chances are you’re familiar with eye strain, which is virtually impossible to avoid if you’re staring at the screen for hours on end. Whether your computer monitor is placed too close or too far, the result is the same: eye fatigue and dry eyes. Try to look away every now and then, preferably at something in the distance, so your eyes can take a break from the computer.
Closely related to other desk job risks such as an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity and exercise is that your metabolism may slow down, which may lead to obesity. But it’s not your looks that you should worry about. Obesity puts you at risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis and type 2 diabetes. These, in turn, are the key risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke.
To counteract this particular effect of your desk job, take a walk, especially after a meal. The worst thing you can do for your body is skip your break and go back to work immediately after you finish lunch. Taking as many walks as you can on a daily basis can help your body metabolize food and help you stay fit.
Health conditions and higher mortality rates
Common health risks of excessive sitting include the following:
- cardiovascular disease
- type 2 diabetes
- varicose veins
- certain types of cancers
As studies on the link between excessive sitting and mortality have shown, all types of sedentary behavior are dangerous and put us at health risks. For instance, studies have shown that the risk of developing a heart condition is much higher in men whose lifestyle involves too much sitting.
We know what you’re thinking: Right, but those are just some lazy slobs who binge on junk food and never exercise. Sadly, no. According to the study, men with sedentary behaviors who exercised on a regular basis were not immune to these detrimental health effects. These effects were only more pronounced in those who were never or seldom physically active.
In addition to all of the above, there is another major factor at play, which doesn’t have much to do with your office job per se: stress. Namely, there is an ongoing trend to train bosses to overwork employees and sadly, the employees themselves are to blame. They work while having lunch, skip breaks, work long hours, respond to work emails outside of their work hours, etc. Bosses, on the other hand, value profit and productivity over their employees’ health and wellbeing.
Instead of prioritizing their health, employees experience stress and mental exhaustion on a daily basis as they struggle to meet their bosses’ unrealistic expectations which they have helped set. But bear this in mind: stress is the leading cause of a number of serious physical and mental conditions. Do yourself a favor, adopt a healthier workplace routine and make your health and wellbeing a priority in the long run.