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Adverse Effects of a Desk Job

Out of the top ten most common jobs, only three can be classified as a desk job. While there are benefits and detriments from all types of jobs, it seems to be more common for health complications to happen from a desk job.

Physical Health Risks

According to Edward R. Laskowski, M.D, from the Mayo Clinic, “Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns. They include obesity and a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that make up metabolic syndrome. Too much sitting overall and prolonged periods of sitting also seem to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.” The United States Department of Labor does keep track of how much individuals sit during their regular working hours. As an example, software developers/applications spent ninety percent of their workday sitting and just ten percent standing or walking. While the most profound risks come from being sedentary, there are other hazards to your health that can occur.

With an office job some people can create the habit of not eating breakfast or eat lunches that aren’t healthy. The University of Iowa (UI) says that health care providers have informed us for a long time that it is important to have breakfast because “the early-morning calories jumpstart the body’s metabolism and give people the energy and nutrients needed to start the day.” A study, that Wei Bao from UI did, evaluates how this can cause cardiovascular death and can be included with other known complications of obesity, high blood pressure and type II diabetes. With the time crunch that many workers have for lunch, the usual choice is fast food. As most people know, consuming a lot of fatty calories is not healthy and leads to cardiovascular complications as well.

Germs can also put a strain on your health and there is a high chance of the office being a breeding ground for bacteria. The EPA has stated that “sick building syndrome” can have a major effect on people. It can be caused by a bad ventilation system, indoor/outdoor chemical contaminants and biological contaminants such as bacteria, mold, pollen and viruses. Every nook and cranny can have microbes on it but “the average keyboard has 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat.”

Office equipment can also cause problems. Staring at a screen puts a strain on your eyes and “between 64% and 90% of computer users experience visual symptoms which may include eyestrain, headaches, ocular discomfort, dry eye, diplopia and blurred vision either at near or when looking into the distance after prolonged computer use.” If filters in printers and photocopiers aren’t changed, they can emit particles into the air that can cause chest pain or the particles could get into the bloodstream and cause lung disease. Typing for long periods of time can cause carpal tunnel and using your mouse in the same position can lead to Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), which is “the overuse of the muscles and tendons in the upper body”. A mouse causes you to use groupings of muscles to make small, repetitive movements and because of the repetition, “the same small muscles can become tired and overworked”.

Business insider has listed other ways that a desk job can be harmful, including things that affect your mental and emotional health.

Emotional/Mental Issues

Most causes of emotional or mental anguish at the office come from stress. Working odd hours gives your body stress and doesn’t allow you to get beneficial sleep. During that time, your body has a hard time regulating “various hormones and metabolic processes.” These “hormones such as growth hormone, melatonin, cortisol, leptin, and ghrelin are closely associated with sleep and circadian rhythmicity. … Circadian disruption, which is typically induced by shift work, may negatively affect health due to impaired glucose and lipid homeostasis, reversed melatonin and cortisol rhythms, dysregulation of leptin and ghrelin, more severe metabolic syndrome, and clock gene rhythm loss.” The result is “an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and insulin insensitivity”. Dealing with unjustified situations or an unfair boss can also cause mental stress and anxiety that further produces stress in your body. Short-term stress caused by impending deadlines can be just as harmful as severe, long-lasting stress. Study leader Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, at the University of California- Irvine, found that “rather than involving the widely known stress hormone cortisol, which circulates throughout the body, acute stress activated selective molecules called corticotropin releasing hormones, which disrupted the process by which the brain collects and stores memories.” Even being bored at work can be bad as people have a tendency to fill that void with bad habits. So, get out of that funk and find a healthy hobby to do.

Recommended Prevention

Working on having a less sedentary lifestyle would probably be the most helpful in terms of physical health. From the previous study listed at the beginning of the article, the Mayo Clinic analyzed data from more than one million people and “found that 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day countered the effects of too much sitting.” Some recommend taking a break from sitting every 30 minutes, standing while talking on the phone, taking the stairs when you can, walking during your lunch break and standing during meetings. Some even suggest that using a standing desk helps with shoulder and back pain and gives your metabolism an edge after eating. Other assumed benefits are that you will have less risk of acquiring the ailments from sitting. There have not been many studies done, so the benefits are not certain. There are treatments for carpal tunnel and RSI but for the most part you want to be preemptive so you don’t need steroids or surgery to overcome the pain. Practicing good posture will also help.

The stress to your body caused by sleep irregularities can be treated through behavioral management and certain medications like melatonin. The best ways to deal with stress, whether they are from enforced deadlines or having a bad boss, are through relaxation techniques or meditation type exercises. Whatever the case may be, the stress management depends on what works best for you. MedlinePlus has a list of articles that can help you with that. And the hormone, found by Dr. Baram, that is released during short-term stress is currently being studied so a compound can be made to block it from doing harm to memory.

There can be negative effects to your health when you have a desk job, but no physical health problems that can’t be prevented or treated. The overall biggest problem would be how much the job induces stress and anxiety, which can be a bit harder to manage.

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