This month is National Safety Month, so we figured we’d take a look at some of the dangers office workers face, and what we can do about them. You wouldn’t think we have much to worry about, sitting safely at our desks, tapping away at our keyboards and reading emails. However, it turns out the typical office is far more perilous than we thought – it seems that everything is out to get us. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll look at some of the many things we computer users all need to be aware of to protect ourselves.
The lurking killer
It turns out the greatest danger to our health is the humble office chair. We’re not talking about the danger when your chair collapses or you tip over backwards, though that is obviously something to watch out for.
We’re talking about the fact that simply sitting in an office chair all day, every day, can make you sick. No matter how comfy your chair is, it’s not good for you. In fact, some doctors say that sitting is more hazardous to our health than smoking. That may be hyperbole – smoking is terribly destructive to the body! – but most doctors agree, excessive sitting has many dangers.
Basically, just being inactive has all sorts of health implications according to researchers at the Mayo Clinic. These include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, DVT, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. It can even increase your chance of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Even if you work out regularly, long periods of sitting in the same place and not using your muscles will weaken your joints and your skeleton. Our bodies need to keep moving, and researchers have shown that just the small motions involved in standing or walking are necessary to our health.
One recent study compared adults who spent less than two hours a day in front of the TV or other screen-based entertainment with those who logged more than four hours a day of recreational screen time. Those with greater screen time had:
- A nearly 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause
- About a 125 percent increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease, such as chest pain (angina) or heart attack
And if those are the effects of just four hours a day sitting on the sofa, think about how much worse it is if you’re spending eight hours a day at your desk!
So what should you do?
Doctors advise that you should get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour. Just going to the water cooler, or going over to a co-worker’s desk will help. If you’re on the phone for any length of time, stand up to take the call. Consider standing up for meetings – they’ll probably be over quicker too!
This article from Kotaku has advice on building a healthier workstation. It’s aimed at gamers, but the same principles apply for office workstations too, and it costs less than $200. That’s a great investment when you think of the effect on your health.
Walk at work
If you’re really serious about your health, consider a treadmill desk and walk while you work. People who have tried them say that they take a little while to get used to, but once you’ve worked this way, you’ll never want to go back to a regular chair! Initially, most people start off with just an hour a day, but many of them end up using it literally all day. Not only does it benefit your bones, your joints and your muscles, but the increased blood flow to your brain also increases your alertness and productivity.
Think of it this way. If you set your treadmill to just 1mph – about a quarter of normal walking pace – you’re walking 8 miles a day, 40 miles a week, 160 miles a month, or nearly 2000 miles a year! That’s like walking from here in Southwest Florida all the way to Washington DC and back. You’ll get super-fit in no time, and you’ll increase your life expectancy too. Plus you won’t have to find time to go to the gym if you’re exercising at work.
Obviously a treadmill isn’t for everyone, but there’s an important lesson there for all of us. Don’t just sit at your desk all day. Get up, keep moving, and keep healthy.