With the rise of technology, convenience, and mass transportation in recent years, it’s undeniable that many people have moved towards a less active daily routine. According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have increased by 83% since 1950 and now less than 20% of jobs in the US workforce require physical activity. Bearing this in mind, it is important to understand the implications and risks that come with this type of lifestyle as well as actions you can take to mitigate the damage done by spending excessive time in your seat.
One of the most prominent problems with deskbound work is its effect on posture. Whether you are hunching over to stare at a computer screen or slouching in a chair as the day wears on, over time poor posture can lead to long term alignment issues and stress and injury on the neck and back. Anyone who has had severe pain in either of those areas knows just how fully debilitating it can be. Poor posture doesn’t stop at just the spine; it can also lead to poor circulation in extremities which comes with its own set of ills, including restricted blood flow and muscle aches.
Aside from getting out of your desk to move around and stretch throughout the day, the US Department of Labor provides a series of recommendations on body positioning that can be beneficial to the seated work day. This includes:
- Hands, forearms, and hips parallel to the floor
- Back thoroughly supported, whether sitting vertically or leaning slightly back
- Feet parallel with the floor
- Head level and in-line with torso positioning
If none of these tips help alleviate issues with posture, a larger scale change to your work station such as using a standing desk or sitting on a stability ball may be the answer. Furthermore, there are even certain preventative exercises to consider that can strengthen target areas, such as the core, shoulders, and back, to enhance stability.
Another common problem when staring at a computer screen for a prolonged period is eye strain. Known as Computer Vision Syndrome, forcing eyes to stare at a screen for as little as two continuous hours at a time can have a number of negative implications. Whether wearing glasses to correct common vision problems or not, extended viewing of a computer screen, poor lighting, and improper viewing distances can lead to regular eye discomfort, headaches, and even blurred vision.
Again, other than flat out taking breaks, the American Optometric Association offers a number of useful tips to combat Computer Vision Syndrome. The most important of these is the location of the computer screen which should ideally be 4 to 5 inches below eye level, as measured from the center of the screen, and 20 to 28 inches away from the eyes. Other recommendations include minimizing glare and proper seating position as mentioned in the above section.
The last main issue associated with a seated work day is the notion of weight management. When taking into account the average length of the work day, commuting, meal consumption, and sleep, there can simply be little time for a necessary dose of daily activity. Compounded with a subpar diet, an overly sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain which comes with a long list of potential health problems including coronary disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, liver disease, or osteoarthritis. Furthermore, researchers like Epidemiologist Steven Blair at the University of South Carolina are beginning to find that even regular daily exercise might not be enough to counterbalance the sheer number of hours we spend sitting during the day so the, “I exercise a few times a week, so I’ll be fine,” stance may not be as effective as many believe.
The solution to this issue should be fairly self-explanatory: diet and exercise. Maintaining a healthy diet and managing energy intake versus output is the recipe to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, even when seated for most of the day. Some other more specific suggestions include:
- Drinking plenty of water throughout the day
- Cutting out unhealthy snacks and drinks
- Taking the stairs
- Biking to work
- Setting aside time for a few minutes of easy exercise every day