If you thought a desk job is less dangerous than field careers where you’re out in the elements or performing physical labor, you thought wrong. As it turns out, your daily office routine, and even the office building itself, could be damaging to your health — and if not remedied, could even increase your chances of disease and shorten your lifespan. Luckily, there are some simple solutions to keep your body in tip-top shape, even when you’re sitting in front of a computer all day.
Problem: Sitting too long and general inactivity. Sitting around all day at your desk does not do you any favors when it comes to your health. According to a report published by PLoS One, more than 292 million Americans do not get the minimum level of exercise required for good health. Since the 1960s, jobs that require moderate physical activity have dropped by 28%, and it is no coincidence that the number of those suffering from weight-related issues has climbed since then as well. This is not only bad for your waistline, but your overall health as well because leading a too-sedentary life can lead to health issues like heart disease and diabetes.
Remedy: Exercise during lunch, or at least once during or before/after work. While it may be a challenge at first, simply finding a way to get some exercise into your day can go a long way. You don’t have to start running marathons either. Something as simple as taking a walk on your lunch break can give you huge health boosts. Also, simple things like standing and stretching a few times throughout your day can reduce the strain on your back, elbows, hands, and other joints.
Problem: The air in your office is contaminated. Perhaps one of the most shocking hazards you will encounter at your desk each day involves one of your body’s most instinctive tasks: breathing. In 1984, the World Health Organization released a report that up to 30% of newly built or remodeled office buildings were found to have a number of complaints regarding the indoor air quality. These included everything from poor ventilation to serious chemical and biological contaminants. In fact, a term was coined for offices plagued by with such issues: Sick Building Syndrome. Unfortunately, many of these buildings received little to no updates and still house workers on a daily basis. If that’s not enough to worry you, consider the fact that printers and copy machines can emit high levels of toner particles, and even ozone, into your workspace.
Remedy: Get out more. While most people can’t drop everything and find a new job (good for you if you can), taking the time to go outside and get some fresh air during the work day can go a long way. Also, regular aerobic exercise can boost your immune system. This can help your body fight off the gazillions of recycled germs being spewed from your office’s air conditioning system throughout the day.
Problem: Commutes increase your chances of auto accidents. If your commute involves a long, daily drive, then your chances of being in an accident naturally increase. However, according to a recent Gallup poll, individuals who face long commutes are not only more likely to become involved in a car accident, but they’re also less happy than those who commute less and long commuters tend to suffer from neck and back conditions.
Remedy: Find alternative modes of transportation. While it’s nearly impossible to get away from relying on your vehicle every day, even carpooling a couple of times a week can reduce stress significantly by not having to be behind the wheel. While it may not be possible for everyone, finding ways to telecommute instead of making the trek to the office can go a long way too. Commuting expenses can also contribute to elevated worry levels.
Problem: Your boring job can trigger a heart attack. Contrary to popular belief, a lack of regular stress can actually increase your risk of heart attack, especially in men. A study performed by Dr. Harry Hemingway of the University College London Medical School showed that dull, steady work decreases your heart rate variability (HRV). In short, HRV measures your heart’s ability to adapt to current circumstances. Over time, your heart becomes less able to adapt to drastic changes in stress levels, so when the pressure is on, your heart may not be up to the task. Studies also show that being bored on the job can increase your risk of a work-related accidents too.
Remedy: Find some time for a little excitement. Finding ways to break the monotony of your daily routine is key. Setting daily completion goals and prioritizing levels for your daily workloads can not only help keep you focused on the task at hand, but also increase productivity. This will help keep stress levels more constant. Also, regular exercise can help elevate your HRV and reduce the risk of a heart attack caused by sudden stress.
Problem: Your stressful job can trigger health problems too. Even more dangerous than a lack of stress in the office is too much of it. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), more than 40% of workers say their job is extremely stressful, while 25% viewed their jobs as their No. 1 source of stress in their lives. Other stressors like violence in the work place, longer hours, increased workloads, and stress related to job security (or a lack thereof) have skyrocketed as well. Stress can lead to a score of health issues, including unhealthy weight gain or loss, insomnia, fatigue, and headaches.
Remedy: Find a way to blow off steam. If you’ve ever thought about taking up mixed martial arts, there has never been a better time to start training. Okay, so you don’t have to take things to that extreme, but things like regular exercise or yoga after you leave the office can do wonders when it comes to releasing work-related stress. Over time, it can also to help you manage it throughout your day. Also, getting enough sleep, combined with a healthy diet, helps keep your body and mind in tip-top, stress-blocking mode. Lastly, if you feel the pressure mounting, doing something as simple as finding a quiet place to sit with your eyes closed for 10 minutes can release tension.
Problem: Working too many hours. Think you are setting a good example in front of your bosses by showing up early and working late? Think again. In reality, you could just be hurting yourself. Studies have shown that employees who put in work weeks longer than 48 hours on a consistent basis do so out of compulsion, rather than having too much work to complete during regular business hours. Over time, putting in too many hours can lead to health problems that can include musculoskeletal disorders, heart disease, fatigue, stress, depression, and also increases your risk of infection.
Remedy: Focus on quality over quantity. Rather than rotting in front of your desk during daylight hours only to slip out of the office and into the night like some sort of word processing, number-crunching Dracula, focus on getting as much done as possible during regular business hours. Career advice expert Penelope Trunk points out that people don’t lose jobs because they aren’t working unpaid overtime, but rather because they didn’t perform their best during important projects.
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