Are Desk Jobs Bad for Your Health?17 May, 20231-2 minutes
Extended periods of sitting at a desk job can have negative effects on your health if not managed properly. One of the primary concerns is the sedentary lifestyle that often accompanies desk jobs. Prolonged sitting can lead to a lack of physical activity, which increases the risk of various health issues, including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and musculoskeletal problems.
According to Occupational Health and Wellbeing Plus, around 81% of office workers spend between four and nine hours daily sitting at their desks. That equates to roughly 67 sedentary days per employee each year.
With that in mind, in our latest insights piece, we delve into whether desk jobs are bad for your health and the negative effects of prolonged sitting and lack of physical activity
The negative effects of prolonged sitting and lack of physical activity
Excessive sitting has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even certain types of cancer. In addition, blood pressure rises when you're seated for long periods, and the lack of physical activity can lead to an accumulation of fat and cholesterol.
These combined factors raise the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Obesity, fatigue, tension, and stress are also more likely to occur with a sedentary desk job.
Metabolism can also be affected by extended periods of sitting, leading to issues such as insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Mental health can be impacted as well, with sedentary behaviour being associated with increased rates of depression, anxiety, and stress.
Furthermore, prolonged sitting can impede blood circulation, potentially leading to conditions such as swollen ankles, varicose veins, and in severe cases, deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
What the research says about desk-bound jobs
Research, led by Dr William Tigbe, at the University of Warwick's medical school revealed that desk-bound workers ran the risk of larger waistlines and a higher risk of heart disease. Dr Tigbe's team fitted 111 healthy Glaswegian postal workers with activity monitors for a week; 55 were office workers, and 56 delivered post.
Those who worked at a desk had a bigger waist circumference (97 cm versus 94 cm) and around one BMI unit difference. They also had a 2.2% risk of cardiovascular disease compared to 1.6% over ten years.
The study suggested a 0.2% increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and a two-centimetre increase in the waistline for every extra hour beyond five hours of sitting (as well as a rise in LDL or 'bad' cholesterol). "Longer time spent in sedentary posture is significantly associated with larger waist circumference, higher triglycerides (fat in the blood) and lower HDL cholesterol, all adding up to worse risk of heart disease," said Dr Tigbe.
"The levels associated with zero risk factors were walking more than 15,000 steps per day, which is equivalent to walking seven to eight miles, or spending seven hours per day upright," he added.
Practical solutions to reduce the health risks associated with desk jobs
One way to reduce the health risks associated with desk jobs is to incorporate regular physical activity into your day. This could include walking during lunch breaks or stretching throughout the day.
It's also important to ensure you're seated in an ergonomic chair and have your workstation set up correctly to reduce the strain on your body. Try to stand up or walk around while working, take regular breaks, and keep hydrated throughout the day.
A standing desk might also be a worthwhile investment. Sit-stand desks can reduce your time sitting while working, making a huge difference to your overall health.
Tips for improving posture while at work
Sitting for extended periods can cause your muscles to become stiff and tight.
For that reason, it's important to ensure you're sitting correctly at all times.
For example, ensure your feet are flat on the floor and a chair with lumbar support supports your back. You should also try to ensure that your elbows are at ninety-degree angles when typing or using your mouse.
Regular breaks and stretching can also reduce strain and fatigue.
Ways to fit more physical activity into your day-to-day routine
Incorporating more physical activity into your daily routine is a great way to offset the health risks associated with desk jobs. Simple but effective ways to increase your exercise levels include:
- Take the stairs instead of the lift
- Park further away from the office and walk the rest of the way
- Do calf raises under your desk
- Do squats while brushing your teeth
- Walk the dog
- Go for a lunchtime walk or walking meeting
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