Of the occupational sectors that are anticipated to have the largest growth through 2022, the second highest is the office and administrative support sector. This sector already accounts for over 22.4 million people according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2014/ted_20140107.htm). That is a lot of people that spend most of their day at an office desk. When you add in computer workers, business people, Internet sales, call centers, students, writers and many other occupations, you can see just how much of our population is at risk for the dangers that desk jobs pose.
Desk jobs are not without injury, although most issues arise from long term effects. On any given day one can experience paper cuts, for example, but it is the sedentary hours that contribute to the majority of problems. The human body is designed for activity, and sitting in a chair for 8+ hours a day just doesn’t give it what it needs. Back pain, leg issues, and obesity along with all the problems obesity causes are all common results of too many hours spent sitting.
From the editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine by the American College of Physicians, “Too Much Sitting and Chronic Disease Risk: Steps to Move the Science Forward”, Brigid M. Lynch, PhD and Neville Owen, PhD, state, “Now, mounting evidence shows that sedentary behavior contributes to all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer death as well as the incidence of cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.” (http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2091332)
According to an article by Cornell University, “Sitting for more than 1 hour has been shown to induce biochemical changes in lipoprotein lipase activity (an enzyme involved in fat metabolism) and in glucose metabolism that leads to the deposit of fats in adipose tissue rather than these being metabolized by muscle, and extensive sitting also relates to heart disease risks.” (http://ergo.human.cornell.edu/CUESitStand.html)
One of the most surprising facts is that even those people that get exercise outside of their jobs still can find themselves having health consequences from prolonged periods behind a desk. For example, the pressure put on the spine when sitting, particularly on the lower back, cannot be undone by pumping iron at the gym. It is believed that the increase in the number of lower back pain sufferers is related to the shift from labor work to desk work over the past couple of decades.
Knowing the risks of a desk job is well and good, but coming up with solutions to the problem is the important part. Few are interested in replacing their desk job since it is usually more lucrative and relatively safer than other types of employment. There are things that can be done to mitigate the dangers so that your desk job won’t kill you in the end.
First, if your position permits it, get out behind that desk every 30 minutes or so and take a short walk. Go get a bottle of water so you can stay hydrated, go to an associate to converse instead of calling, texting or emailing them, and use bathroom breaks to your advantage. With a bit of thought, you can probably come up with tasks that will get you out of that chair, even if just briefly, throughout the day.
Use your break times constructively. Nobody is saying to go walk up and down a couple flights of stairs, although that is a great idea, but at least don’t eat your lunch at your desk or sitting in the lunchroom. Walk around eating your apple, take a stroll through a park close by, or whatever else strikes your fancy. Just don’t do any of it sitting.
Another great idea that is beginning to be embraced by a number of companies is the use of a standing desk. Even if your company will not provide one of these gems, many will let you provide your own. You can burn 300 or more calories a day just by standing when working instead of sitting, not to mention taking a lot of pressure off your lower back. You can use an online calculator (http://www.standingdeskcalculator.com) for determining how much time you are sitting each day (work and beyond) and how many calories you could burn by standing instead.
You can further make your standing desk space a pleasant work environment with the use of a quality standing desk mat. This product will help keep you from feeling fatigued. Standing has its own host of problems, that although are less than the dangers of sitting all day, can be troublesome if you do not use a standing desk mat.
In addition, do not exacerbate the situation by spending much of your off-duty time also sitting. You can’t do much about your commute time – it is somewhat frowned upon to get out of your car at stop lights – but you can avoid plopping down in front of the television or computer for hours each evening. It’s not that you can’t watch television, but consider watching a show or two while riding a treadmill or elliptical machine.
There are also standing work desks that incorporate an exercise machine into them, such as treadmills and stationary bicycles. While these are not ideal at your place of employment (your boss probably won’t like you sweating while you work!), they are a great idea for at home.
In conclusion, a desk job and a sedentary lifestyle can rob you of your health and even kill you. Even if you do workout, you may not be able to completely negate the ill effects of those 8 hours in a desk chair and the additional hours spent sitting at home. By making a conscious effort, however, you can make small changes that will make a big difference overall. Your parents may have told you as a child not to fidget, but as it turns out, not sitting still in one place is much better advice and one you can follow pretty easily, even if you do not like to get a lot of exercise.
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