While dangerous and physically demanding, it’s not climbing telephone poles, mining, or deep sea fishing that pose the greatest health risks for most of today’s workers. No, one of the riskiest and increasingly common types of jobs in the world is the all too coveted desk job. In this “Office Job Hazards” series I’ll cover the dangers of working behind a desk, from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome to co-worker related stress, and identify strategies to prevent them and improve your health. To start off the series, we’ll take a look at the office job requirement that increases the risk of diabetes, back pain, cardiovascular disease, and early death: sitting.

If you can’t reduce the amount of time that you work behind a desk, it’s important for your health (for your life) that you find a way to change how you work behind a desk. Recent studies have produced very alarming but important information about sitting, namely that doing so for prolonged periods of time greatly increases the risk of disease and early death. Unfortunately, sitting increases these risks despite how physically active one is after work. Yet, to make matters worse, instead of doing something active after work, most people do even more sitting (driving home, watching TV, etc.), which only increases the risk of disease. For many people sitting is also a major cause of bad posture, weak stomach muscles, and lower back pain. The reason sitting can cause lower back pain because it places increased angular stress (up to 50% more than when standing) on the lumbar vertebrae. If going to work feels like torture, maybe it’s because in some ways it is. While your chair at work isn’t electric, it might be causing you a very slow, early death.

The good news is that you can keep your day job and still decrease your risk of death and disease, as well as gain relief from lower back pain. While not fully accepted in the work place, standing desks and alternative chairs are graining traction as healthy alternatives to sitting in a traditional chair all day. I’ve personally used both, and while both are better than a standard chair, I prefer working at a standing station. A standing station is essentially a very tall desk, elevated so that your arms are parallel with the ground while typing and you’re looking directly at the computer screen while standing. By standing you’ll actually be able to focus better, burn more calories, straighten your spine, and decrease your risk of disease! The other alternative is some type of dynamic seating device that activates your core muscles and forces you to stabilize your spine while sitting, such an exercise ball or modified exercise ball. If you have to work 8-hours a day at a desk, the ideal situation might be some combination of both, a standing station connected to a seated desk with an exercise ball for a chair.

The easiest solution for most people, however, would probably be to purchase an exercise ball (or modified exercise ball) and use it to replace their existing chair at work. You might get a few stares, laughs, or questions, but it’s usually an acceptable middle ground, and it might even cause some of your co-workers to follow suit. A standing desk takes a little bit more time to get use to (and a little bit more money up front), but it’s amazing how quickly the body can adapt. Standing also promotes proper posture and increased movement better than an exercise ball. Once on your feet you’ll quickly find yourself doing stretches and moving around more often in between daily assignments. If you can get your employer to purchase a standing station/desk for you, do it!

The take home message is, don’t underestimate the negative effect sitting all day in a standard chair can have on your health. We weren’t created to sit all day – we need to move!


Originally posted 2012-11-02 21:16:00.


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