Deeper Look: Common Office Health Problems, and How to Prevent Them
February 26, 2018
On the surface, office work is much safer than other jobs. It gets you out of the house, which can prevent the mental health issues that come with working at home. It keeps you away from the dangerous power tools that come with construction work, and off the road, lessening the chance of car crash. We’re learning now, though, that office work can cause several long term health problems. They may never rear their ugly head, or they may lie dormant for years. They’re problems that anyone doing office work, or similar, should be aware of. Many of these issues are preventable if you know to look out for them.
As of 2016, roughly 44% of all Americans are gaining weight at their jobs. This weight gain has two major triggers: poor choice of food, and the sedentary lifestyle of the office. Office workers will often spend 7 of the 8 hours they’re at work sitting down, get 8 more hours of laying while they sleep, and will sit down most of the time their at home. Sitting can do more than just help us pack on the pounds, too. While we’re sitting, we are not only burning less calories through lack of exercise, but also through chemical changes. Sitting lowers the production of lipoprotein lipase (LPL, or “the good cholesterol”), which helps our body burn fat naturally. It also lowers the density of our bones, making them more vulnerable to fracture. And, of course, it causes dilation of blood vessels, leading to higher blood pressure, which, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease. At the end of the day, too much sitting greatly increases the risk of early death. Links have been shown by studies performed all over the world, and have been isolating sitting from similar health risks, like smoking, diet, and blood pressure.
Office diets aren’t great, either. 78% of workers who eat at their desk have found that they’re gaining weight, and 63% of people who eat takeout or dine out at least once a week are gaining weight on their lunch break. There are a variety of reasons that eating out is worse than eating homemade food. One of the biggest is that you’re more likely to eat fast food, which you surely don’t need me to repeat why that’s a problem. Even the healthiest fast food is terrible for your body. You’re also more likely to eat food that is richer when you’re out, such as pasta with cheesy sauce. Meanwhile, you would have packed yourself a salad for lunch. You also don’t know the origins of the food that you’re eating when you’re out, meaning less healthy products might be going into your body. Even the most refined palettes can’t taste preservatives in a stew. Of course, eating out is also terrible for your wallet. Some people spend the money they make in four hours of working on one hour of lunch. This causes stress, which will compound the negative effects of the food.
Exercise is a great way to prevent the negative effects of weight gain, but not as effective as you might think. It can help to offset the weight gain, but won’t undo the lowering of LPL. The best way to prevent these effects is to get up during your work day. Standing desks are great, and pacing in your cubicle might not be a bad idea. Some people have taken to treadmill desks, which are not recommended. They actually increase stress, increase the amount of mistakes you’ll make, and lead to a lot of tripping and falling, which we’ll discuss more later. You should also look to change your diet on the job. Pack a lunch more, and drink more beverages, like green tea, that are high in antioxidants. Vitamin C also helps to offset the feelings of depression, and pale skin that can arise from being inside all day.
The Other Dangers of Sitting
Sitting for several hours a day can have worse effects than that. To start with the absolute worst, working in an office for more than 10 years has been linked to a 44% increase in risk of colon cancer. The reasons aren’t quite clear, though it’s likely a combination of muscular stress, dystrophy, and poor diet. Working in an office is an undeniable cause for colon cancer, but (as with many issues in the office) you can decrease the risk significantly by being more aware of the sedentary lifestyle that working in an office causes. To lower your risk of colon cancer, you should be getting up during the day. You should also consider the risk when figuring out your diet. For example, broccoli is great at fighting off colon cancer, so you might want to put more of it in your lunch.
Your posture can cause it’s fair share of issues, as well. Slouching during office work has been linked to back pain, and weakening of muscles in the back. Over the long term, this pain can compound. In fact, you may be developing back pain even if you aren’t feeling it currently. Unlike other problems with sitting, you can prevent almost 100% of this with stretching and exercise. Exercises and stretches that work your back should keep the muscle from getting too tight, thus preventing back pain.
Office work has been linked to several long term ailments, in fact. Arthritis and bursitis are just a few of the chronic ailments you need to consider when doing office work. Long hours with your hands on a keyboard can cause stress on the tendons in your arms and hands, which will lead to arthritis in the long term. There are several ways to help prevent them. Stretching, again, should help to relieve pain. You might also consider an ergonomic keyboard, and concerning yourself more with your positioning. Posture, again, is important here. You should be sitting at a nearly exact 90 degree to your keyboard. No more, no less. A chair with good lumbar support (support on the back) will help with arthritis, and back pain, as well. If you’re beginning to see signs of arthritis or bursitis, you might also consider getting an orthopedic brace.
Colds, Flus, and Much Worse
In an article about health problems in school, we discussed how children can touch an insane amount of surfaces in a short period of time. Unfortunately, that doesn’t let up much by the time we reach adulthood. A working adult can touch as many as 30 objects in the space of 60 seconds. It’s been suggested that most keyboards, desks, and office chairs have more germs on them than the average toilet seat. Desktops contain 21,000 germs per square inch. Phones, as well, which we often press to our face. Gross, right? Viruses and bacteria of all kinds find their way around the office at breakneck speed, leading to a highly increased risk for the common cold, the flu, and many more illnesses.
Luckily, you should be able to maintain your good health by keeping things sanitary. Disinfectant wipes are your best friend around the office, and do a great job of keeping surfaces clean. If you’re concerned about wiping down your computer and keyboard, you shouldn’t be. Disinfectant wipes shouldn’t be wet enough to cause any issues, but you should take the precaution of shutting the computer down. Of course, cough caves and blocked sneezes are important, too. By keeping germs out of the air, you keep them out of the bodies of your coworkers. You should also do your part by washing your hands, or using hand sanitizer, often. If the company you work for doesn’t provide the ability to keep things clean, work with your officemates to find the supplies. You should put pressure on the company to help, though, especially if you’re in the sort of work environment where sick days are for relaxation and not colds. The best way to prevent office sickness is to stop people who are sick from showing up in the first place, meaning they should feel comfortable in knowing they can take time off for the cold without having to miss their child’s birthday party.
And, Of Course, Slipping and Falling
One of the most overlooked office hazards is this: clutter. With objects all over the place, there’s a lot of opportunity for falling, whether it be tripping over an object, or an object falling. It’s hard to avoid either of these things, but you do need to be cautious. Falling objects can lead to cuts, which are negligible, but can be so bad as to cause a concussion. Falling over objects will often have small consequences, as well: embarrassment is also guaranteed, maybe a bruise, or a scrape. Particularly bad falls might cause ankle sprains, bone breakage, or muscle pulling. There are small things you can do to avoid toppling over, though. Keep items out of the way where people walk, keep sharp items in drawers, don’t open several drawers at a time as it can cause your desk or a cabinet to fall. Don’t stack heavy items. And, finally, keep chords wrapped up.
Offices are much more dangerous than they seem. Be aware of the problems they can cause, and you’ll be okay. Remember to take sick days when you need to, and to keep things organized. Get up and move, and eat well. That’s all you need to get through the work week okay.