The modern, digital workplace is no longer the dangerously fraught environment of the industrial revolution. Long gone are the steam powered maiming contraptions of old, and yet this new environment is host to dangers of its own, lurking in plain sight. A lack of physical activity is the root cause of a myriad of health issues, often mutating into a cluster of conditions without intervention.
The Dangers of Prolonged Sitting
Sitting for prolonged periods brings with it a shockingly large assortment of negative side effects.
Excessive sitting leads to a state of decondition for the body, encompassing not just musculature but mental aspects as well. The risk of heart disease rises 20% for those who sit eight or more hours a day.1
The vascular system is affected as well, particularly in the lower limbs: vascular dysfunction and Deep Vein Thrombosis are serious issues with life threatening outcomes that can develop from simply sitting too long. These can be exacerbated by excess cholesterol in one’s system, which is unfortunately common due to the types of food that are easily available around office districts. Weight gain is also one of the hidden dangers of office work; eating while distracted often leads to portions larger than intended, and grabbing food that is quick instead of healthy causes issues with dietary balance. Visceral fat tissue gain is directly tied to sitting for prolonged periods, as well as fatty tissue accumulation around the liver: both of these are predictors of Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Cancer itself is another risk of sitting, with colorectal, ovarian and endometrial cancers being correlated. Studies have shown that the risk of developing or exacerbating anxiety and depression increases with the amount of time spent sitting uninterrupted. These are just some of the internal issues that arise from a sedentary working style.
Structurally, one is not much better off. Any number of skeletal issues can crop up from improper posture and inadequate movement. Simply staring down at a laptop screen can cascade from simple neck pain into knots in your upper back and shoulders. Left unattended, these can weaken your muscles to a point that will start a “collapse” of your body into itself. An arch in your neck or hunch in your upper back is a warning sign that this is starting to occur. This will compound any strain on your lower back, causing the discs in your spine to bulge and gradually cause nerve issues. Spinal issues of many kinds can begin wreaking havoc on your well being, if one isn’t mindful of their positioning during the day. Skeletal collapse will cause issues with your lungs expanding fully, as well as internal pressure on your precious organs. Having your hands too close together is also a risk to the lungs, as your chest is compressed to the width of your keyboard instead of a natural, open position. This positioning also opens one up to various repetitive stress injuries (RSI). Carpal tunnel is one of the most widely known, but there are others that can manifest simply from using your mouse in the same way all day, every day. These issues will absolutely require surgeries to correct if left unchecked.
Eye strain is a huge liability for most office workers, as they are using screens of various kinds for extended periods, often at the same distance from their eyes all day. This can cause multiple issues known collectively as Computer Vision Syndrome. The most serious, and one that is also caused by smartphone usage is myopia; where one’s eyeballs physically change to elongate. Blue light exposure from screens has been proven to alter the circadian rhythms of people; this leads to poor quality of sleep, tiredness, brain fog, and other problems which affect personal performance.
These issues are but the tip of the iceberg once you start to dig into the research. Surely as the population at large remains sedentary for longer periods of time, there will be more issues and knock-on effects uncovered.
Thanks; this is terrifying news: Now What?!
You needn’t worry, there’s an exceptionally simple solution to prevent the aforementioned issues: get up and move. It doesn’t need to be excessive, thirty minutes every few hours will be your panacea. Take a walking meeting if you can, instead of using the conference rooms. Stand at your desk if you are able to, or find a counter to utilize. Requesting alternative seating arrangements (ie: exercise ball, leaning or kneeling chair) can massively boost your focus and help your muscles stay engaged. An added benefit, movement away from your workstation is allowing your eyes time to relax from the screen and let them reset somewhat. There is an established preventative rule called 20-20-20 (every 20 minutes spent using a screen; you should look away at something that is 20 feet away from you for a total of 20 seconds) that will help the muscles relax and reduce pressure on your eyes.
The science is conclusive: if you maintain regular amounts of modest activity levels you can overcome the dangers posed by inactivity in the workplace. It doesn’t take much at all to notice a difference. Higher energy levels, less difficulty focusing, and fewer physical ailments await those who take a long-term approach to their overall well-being. Treat yourself as an investment and the dividends will last a lifetime.
sources, specific & general:
1 – JAMA Cardiology: “Association of Sitting Time With Mortality and Cardiovascular Events in High-Income, Middle-Income, and Low-Income Countries