It is estimated that the average office worker spends at least 30% of their day (sometimes up to 50%) slaving away in front of a computer, typing, creating, analyzing reports or reconciling records. While such formal office work may not be immediately viewed as risky – or life-threatening – as compared to working as a casual laborer on a factory floor, office work carries with it a few latent but potentially more harmful health risks than most corporate employees would like to admit or are aware of.
Here’s a quick primer to the health risks associated with office work and how one can effectively mitigate these risks.
#1. Eye Strain
Let’s face it, in a world where we are constantly surrounded by flickering screens ranging from our smartphone displays to HDTVs, we are bound to spend a good chunk of our lives straining our eyes to decipher images and texts displayed in various contrasting resolutions. And as if this is not enough, if you work in an office, the time spent in front a potentially harmful screen increases by seven fold. As expected, this has contributed immensely to the unprecedented rise in the number of unusual visual-based disorders such as Computer Vision Syndrome or CVS. CVS, in particular, is a complication manifested by blurred visions, acute headaches and severe eye irritation that stems from spending endless hours gazing at rapidly flickering screens.
Fortunately, however, researchers have unearthed ways of minimizing such risks that office workers face on a daily basis. The first, of course, would be making sure that your monitor is placed slightly below your eye level and at a reasonable distance. Ideally, it ought to be at least 25 inches from your eyes. Reduce the glare/brightness of your screen’s PC to the lowest possible level and give your peepers a break from the harsh light emitted by taking a short break every 30 minutes.
The blue light emitted by electronic screens can also mess with your natural circadian rhythms causing disrupted sleep, especially if you tend to work on a device late into the night. To mitigate the negative impact of blue light, consider a pair of blue light blocking glasses or a blue light blocking app which can automatically dim the screen of your electronic device.
#2. Neck Strain
According to a recent study conducted by the American Academy of Palliative and Pain Medicine, employers spend over $7.4 billion USD per year treating back and neck pain of office workers over the age of 40 years (source).
This illustrates several important points. For starters, slouching and hunching in front of a laptop or a desk PC severely increases the chances of straining your delicate neck muscles and triggering incessant neck pain that never seems to go away. Secondly, most office workers work endless hours over the course of their lifetime in unhealthy sitting postures thus, aggravating this risk further.
You can, nonetheless, mitigate this risk significantly by learning how to work while assuming a recommended posture. Make sure that you don’t hunch over your workstation by raising your monitor to the correct eye level position. Besides this, strengthening one’s abdominal muscles by practicing yoga frequently is also key to improving flexibility and spinal alignment.
#3. Sedentary Lifestyle and Chronic Back Pain
Spending at least 40 hours a week at an office translates to far too many hours spent sitting stationary in front of a computer or at a desk. The human body, harking as far back as our quadrupedal forefathers, was obviously not designed or evolved for such unhealthy lengths of immobility and passivity. And this actually explains the rapid increase in the number of lifestyle diseases that have bedeviled our modern society.
But of more importance here is the link between the sedentary lifestyle of a majority of office workers and the early onset of back pain and spinal complications. As a chiropractor would confirm, sitting down for such numberless hours year-in-year-out dramatically increases the pressure applied on the pelvis and lower back region by over 90%. Luckily, a recommended way of countering this is by investing in a sit-to-stand desk which makes it easy to break the sustained culture of sitting down for long hours at a go.
#4. Obesity and Unhealthy Weight Gain
It is no secret that our body’s metabolism gradually slows down as time takes its toll on us. That’s primarily the reason why people tend to gain weight and lose muscle as they get older. Office workers who spend endless hours immobile suffer even a worse fate – obesity. This can be pegged to the culture of snacking on processed fast foods with an unhealthy high fat and sugar content that is rampant in almost all corporate working environments today. In a snowball effect that is further aggravated by the fact that by simply being obese one is more predisposed to other work-rated injuries, it is easy to see why office work is more risky (health-wise) than one would expect.
An excellent way of combating the risks of obesity while still pursuing a desk job would be integrating a healthy balanced diet in one’s daily eating regimen. Avoid processed, sugary or fatty foods as much as you can while at the same time sparing at least 30 minutes a day for a medium intensity physical exercise such as jogging or walking.
#5. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
It is a known fact that any repetitive motion over the course a considerable period will eventually wear down any physical part of the human body. The fingers and the adjoining bones are not immune either – that’s the reason Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is known to haunt those who spend years typing or tapping on the keys of a keyboard.
To keep Carpel Tunnel Syndrome at bay, without necessarily hampering your productivity and output, it is important to rest your fingers and wrists after every 20 minutes of continuous typing/writing by clenching and unclenching your fists at least 10 times.
As you can see, office work can be a risky and potentially life-threatening affair (in the case of morbid obesity), but it doesn’t necessarily have to be so. By adhering to such simple guidelines, you can add years of productivity to your daily routine without putting your overall and general well being on the line.