Is your desk job a health hazard?
It's not the stress. It's not your boss. It's not typing all day, the phone calls or the constant paper shuffling. It's sitting at your desk.
That's right, simply sitting at your desk, without all the added stress and activity, IS the health hazard.
Too much sitting can affect your health from head to toe – even if you workout or are physically active 45 to 60 minutes a day.
Sitting at a desk or in a vehicle for hours, can cause hip, neck, back and shoulder pain, poor posture, and loss of flexibility of connective muscle tissues.
Working at your computer keyboard can add repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel while staring at your monitor causes vision and dry eye problems. Simply sitting causes our muscles may not be able to metabolize fats and sugar efficiently, which can lead to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Our bodies were created to move
Even with a regular workout program that incorporates five to seven hours of exercise each week, sitting can still be detrimental to your health. Here are five tips that you can use stay healthy.
1) Don't rely on your after-hours workouts. You need to take a movement break every 30 to 60 minutes: stand up, walk or stretch for five minutes if possible. Studies show that working out of 45 to 60 minutes a day may not be enough to counteract eight or nine hours of sitting.
In order to remember to take a movement break, set a timer. Take a few minutes to do a series of stretches. You can increase your flexibility while counteracting the effects of sitting. Make sure that you take scheduled movement breaks of 10 to 15 minutes in your day, as well.
You could also aim for a workday in which you stand at least 50 percent of the time.
Some studies show that dedicating an uninterrupted time period to a job and then moving away from that task for a few minutes before returning may increase rather than decrease productivity.
2) Practice 20-20-20 vision. Every 20 minutes look away from your screen; look at something at least 20 feet in the distance for at least 20 seconds. This simple exercise will rest your eyes.
If your eyeglass prescription changes and you require a bifocals or trifocals, you may need to adjust the height of your computer monitor so that you don't have to crane your neck to look through your glasses.
Looking at the computer for hours at a time can also make your eye dryer than normal. A person who reads a computer screen blinks only seven times. A person usually blinks 12 to 15 times per minute.
3) Practice perfect posture. When sitting at a desk, it's tempting to hunch over. Sitting up straight will keep you from developing slumped shoulders and may even help prevent a tummy pouch. Sitting for hours at a time can flatten the curves in your back add a little stress to your poor posture, and the result can be shoulder, neck and back pain.
Good posture avoid stress and strain musculoskeletal disorders. Exercise can help you improve your posture.
4) Stand up and walk when you talk on the phone. Walking meetings and stand-up or “pacing” phone calls can help your health. As an added bonus, taking a movement break may also help your productivity.
5) Look for other ergonomic changes you can make in your office. One easy way to create an ergonomic workspace by replacing your desk chair with a ball chair, exercise ball, angled chair or another type of chair designed to engage your body's core muscles throughout the day. Just adding that slight movement to your internal muscles can keep them toned.
If you are unable to replace your office chair, you may want to call an ergonomic expert and have your chair adjusted for better lumbar support.
If you have the opportunity and your scope of work allows it, consider swapping your desk for a treadmill desk. For some, this may be a solution to movement throughout the day while working on your “to do” list.
In 2010, the American Cancer Society in Atlanta analyzed the data from a 14-year study of 123,000 middle-aged adults. The study compared the mortality rates of people who sat for less than three hours with the mortality rates of those who sat for six hours or more during the day. The results should be noted; mortality rates for women who sat six hours or more were 34 percent higher than for women who sat for less than 3 hours; the rate was 17 percent higher for men who sat for six hours or more.
A study out of the University of Queensland in Australia calculated that each hour of seated television viewing may shorten the average life expectancy of adults 25 years and older. But it's not just limited to watching television, it also may include reading, computer activities, or sitting in a car; the problem is not related to what you are doing while you are sitting; it's related to sitting itself.
But, I try to stay active
Staying active and living an active life are not the same thing. It's great to be active and regular exercise is important, but it is more important to have activity throughout the day.
Studies show that this may not matter. If the average day is 14 to 16 hours long, and we sit for 8 hours at our desk and then watch television or work on the computer for another two hours in the evening, we are sedentary for 60 to 70 percent of our days. If we are physically active for an hour each day that represents just six or seven percent of our day. Our bodies were built to be active. That may be why the average weight of American increased 10 to 15 percent from 1950 to today.
Compare this to centuries ago when people didn't have to “fit” exercise into their day because the very act of living required them to be physical; life was hard and didn't allow much time for sitting. They worked in gardens, did barn chores, foraged or hunted for food, and then cooked and processed the foods that they did find.
According to a 2010 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, when healthy men decreased their number of footsteps by 85 percent for just 2 weeks, their insulin sensitivity decreased 17 percent, which raised their risk for diabetes.
Combine these results with the bed-rest study by Bergouignan that confined healthy and active volunteers to bed for a day to three months and found that these people developed metabolic features close to obese people and people with Type 2 diabetes, and it is obvious that being sedentary is very bad for our health.
According to a 2006 University of Minnesota study, people are working out just as much as they did between 1980 and 2000, but we are sitting eight percent more.
Seek an active life
A report produced by the University of Missouri in 2007, found that people who had high-level of activity during their days, such as mowing the lawn, vacuuming, gardening, sweeping floors or washing walls burned significantly more calories that people who ran every day, but sat for the rest of the time. According to the same report, a person who works as a retail clerk, who stands for most of the day, burns about 500 calories more than a person who sits behind a desk.
Sitting may be as hazardous as smoking. According to the American Osteopathic Association, a sedentary lifestyle may be more hazardous than smoking. People who have spent 10 years or more at a sedentary job have double the risk of bowel cancer; they are also more susceptible to heart disease, obesity and diabetes. How much time you spend sitting may be as indicative of heart attack risk as BMI, waist-to-hip ratios and cholesterol readings.
Inactivity affects more than the heart. Sitting for long periods of time also results in muscle stiffness, poor balance, poor mobility, lower-back, neck, and hip pain. Muscles that are sedentary may lose the ability to metabolize fats and sugar, which may contribute to high cholesterol and diabetes.
One reason may be that your fascia, the tough connective tissue that covers your muscles, loses its pliability and sets in the position that muscles use the most. When you sit for hours, the fascia on your hip flexors will contract and shorten; this same condition will occur if your shoulders and upper back are slumped over the keyboard, which can lead to chronic neck pain.
The effects of sitting are cumulative. You may not notice much during the first few years, but as you reach each new decade of age, your condition will become worse and will get harder to remedy. You can combat some of the damage by getting regular exercise and make choices to move, stand and stretch throughout your day.
Don't let sitting misalign your hip sockets
When you must sit for extended periods, make sure that you chair allows you to maintain a 90 degree or smaller angle between your back and you legs will be better for your hip flexors. This action will keep you from putting pressure on hips, knees, and your spine.
Be careful of weight gain
Sitting and stress can lead to snacking. It is estimated that over 60 percent of Americans snack at their desks. If you are one of them, you may want to make sure you stock up on healthy snacks like nuts and fruit that can keep your blood sugar in balance. It is also important to make sure that you eat a healthy lunch.
Be aware of the time that you spend sitting. Set a timer and get up and move every 30 minutes or so during your work day. Take calls standing up. Take standing breaks. Stretch at your desk. Find ways to put more movement into your work day – your body will thank you for it.