Is Your Office Job Killing You?
Office work was a sign of status decades ago when most people were performing physical work to earn a living. These days, working in an office is common but findings have emerged that a physically sedentary job is taking a longer-term toll on your health.
The sedentary lifestyle led by the majority of the population is now considered a major health issue and office work is regarded as one of the main culprits. The long hours spent on a chair in front of the computer, driving instead of walking, taking the lift instead of climbing the stairs all have a negative impact on our health – despite exercise undertaken outside office hours.
How office work affects your health
Office work affects your wellbeing in many ways. Studies have shown that sitting in a chair for hours increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer among others, in addition to the increased likelihood of back and neck pain, losing bone mass and increasing body fat levels.
Besides the risks associated with sitting in a chair, another overlooked aspect is the effect of bright artificial lights. People whop spend a lot of time in brightly-lit rooms can have more intense emotions and sensations and can tend to feel overwhelmed more quickly.
Does going to the gym after work help?
Exercise that raises your heart rate or gets you lifting weights improves your cardiovascular fitness and strength but doesn’t appear to compensate for the negative effects of office work. A study published in 2013 suggests that constant low-strain physical activity has a more positive influence on overall health compared to short periods of intense exercise. Studies of this kind highlight the difference between daily incremental activity and intentional exercise and the need for both in our lives.
What can you do about it?
In two words: get moving.
- Find opportunities to get up and talk more with colleagues rather than e-mail
- Set a calendar reminder half-hourly to stand and move for a few minutes
- Book meeting rooms further from your desk to take advantage of opportunities to walk around
- Use the stairs instead of the lift (where the fire escapes haven’t been locked between floors)
- Wearable devices such aspedometers and accelerometers can be a reminder of how inactive an office job can be. Models that track activity and sleep patterns can be bought for less than $100
- Have a short walk outside during your lunch break and resist the urge to work through lunch
- Be less efficient with photocopying and printing and get up to collect individual jobs
- Walk a longer route to your office from the car park, bus stop or train station
- Try walking meetings where the office layout or grounds permit — meetings tend to be more to the point and participants look forward to the break in routine
- Pace the airport terminal rather than snack at the frequent flyer lounges when waiting for flights
- Technology such as standing desks are being introduced to workplaces and may be worth a try while their effects are currently being studied
- Engage colleagues in activities such as theGlobal Corporate Challenge to build a competitive spirit and activity-focused culture among the team
The unfortunate truth for many of us is that long hours are a benchmark of respect in the workplace. Sometimes there is trade-off between career progression and living a balanced life, and decisions need to be made when an employer wants more than your health can give over the longer term. Remember that most employers will happily let you work as many hours as you can so look for ways to manage perceptions while minding your health.