Chained to a desk? Your health is in danger

| March 28, 2014

Sitting at a desk all day can have serious long-term effects on your health. Andre Smith looks into ways to ease the stress of sitting all day.

My mother worked a desk job for 35 years and would still be working today if not for the global recession. I’ve followed in her footsteps, working a similar cubicle-bound position for the last half a decade, and already I’m feeling the effects. Desk jobs are a real health concern for a number of reasons, but thankfully, I’ve been able to do a few things to help.

Sitting Ourselves to Death

One thing I’ve learned in my research into the dangers of a desk job is that spending too much time every day sitting is far more dangerous than anyone suspects. Even if you pick up and run for a few miles every few days, spending most of every day sitting causes health issues.

First off, there are the immediate physical issues. Poor posture leads to back and neck pain. Sitting in certain positions puts stress on the ankles, knees and hips, damaging joints. Muscles stretched in unnatural positions ache and are ill prepared for exercise. After just a few short years of a desk job, I’m already standing up with a groan, walking carefully to wake up my legs and stretching my back until it pops.

Then there are the long-term health effects. Too much sitting leads to fat in the blood, which is a factor in heart disease. There’s also insulin resistance, which is similar to diabetes, with all of the danger of that disease.

The Dangers of Gadgetry

As part of my job, I’m often answering the phone, talking for several minutes at a time with a customer while I interact with a computer system. The keyboard, of course, requires both hands. The usual response to this situation is to cradle the phone on my shoulder and press my head sideways to hold it in place; uncomfortable, but the only reasonable way to hold an older desk phone. After a busy workday, my neck is sore and I’m frequently suffering from a headache.

Our office recently updated to a phone system using wireless headsets. No more bent neck; I can sit up straight while I talk. This is quite helpful, and I’ve already felt the difference, though I still tilt my head a little out of sheer force of habit.

Healthy Solutions

In my research, I’ve been looking for ways to alleviate the sedentary lifestyle I’ve been living. Exercise on weekends and in the mornings is helpful, but it doesn’t completely ease the stress of sitting all day.

At the most basic level, large balance balls seem to be a good seating option. They keep your muscles active while you sit, rather than allowing your body to relax completely. They’re fairly inexpensive, but they’re not as convenient as the typical office chair. For a more expensive option, I’ve seen standing desks becoming more and more viable. Of course, standing all day isn’t exactly exercise; you really need to pick up an anti-fatigue mat for the floor to keep from putting too much stress on your feet.

Some studies have indicated that a 50/50 ratio of sitting and standing is more ideal for a workday, which leads me to believe a mixture between a balance ball seat and a standing desk would be perfect. For a little more activity, there are also treadmill desks, which I’m interested in testing out eventually; unfortunately, they’re expensive, and I have yet to be able to convince my boss that they’re a smart investment. They also don’t adjust as well to a 50/50 ratio, so would require more space for a secondary setup for seating.

In the end, it all comes down to awareness of the problem. How many people do you know that realize how dangerous office life truly is? We can’t solve the problem on a wide scale without first knowing more about it.