Do you ever worry about how your job is affecting your health? Not how the stress of your job is impacting it, but how the environment or physical motions of your job affect your health?
Before our recent move to a mostly technology and service industry economy, physical harm was a big worry for many workers. It might not have even been a worry, but just a reality. Many injuries were accepted as part of the job, like industrial accidents in manufacturing plants, and farm accidents from unpredictable animals or equipment failure. Even illnesses like mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos or black lung from breathing coal dust were considered a simple consequence of earning a living.
We don’t really think about how lucky we are that our 21st century jobs — social media manager, data analyst, app developer — don’t carry these same kinds of physical health concerns. However, there is a new concern taking over the health world that you do need to consider: sitting. Yes, too much sitting is bad for your health.
There have been multiple studies published recently that document the ill effects of prolonged sitting which is prevalent in today’s workplace. Issues include weight gain due to decreased activity and metabolic rate, insulin effectiveness decreases, blood pooling in the lower extremities causing venous issues and blood clots, increased risk of cancer, and increased chances of heart problems.
Being sedentary has long been known to cause health problems. Humans are meant to move. We feel better when we exercise and our bodies are happier. However, some of these new studies suggest that exercising in our time off does not counteract the negative effects of too much sitting. This is why sitting is being compared to smoking: eliminating the cause does not improve the ill effects.
This is bad news for many of today’s workers. It is unlikely that most of us are going to quit our lucrative desk job to go work on the farm, but a study by the American Cancer Society showed that men who sat for six or more hours had an overall premature death rate 20 percent higher than men who sat for three or less hours. That is a scary number.
So, what can we do to help ourselves? A common solution, the standing desk, can help if you are using it correctly. A better choice is an adjustable height desk which will allow you to alternate between sitting and standing because trading sitting still all day for standing still all day does not help. The best solution is to get up and move regularly throughout the day. Our bodies do better when they are not locked into one position for long periods of time. There are a few ways to easily work movement into your day, like getting up and walking around whenever you are on the phone. Another option is to make sure you stand up and greet every visitor to your office. If your job duties preclude getting up and walking around at any point, just fidgeting and moving your body in your chair will help. There are even stretches you can do while sitting at your desk.
There is no easy solution to this, or any other, health issue because everyone has different risk factors due to their genetic makeup and lifestyle choices. You may never have to worry about this issue. However, as our society becomes increasingly more sedentary, it bears consideration. Are there ways your workplace can help you improve your health, not hinder it? You have to work to make a living, but it shouldn’t make you too unhealthy to enjoy the living.