Did you know sitting at a desk all day can create sedentary health risks? Telecommuting jobs may not make you sweat, but they can still affect you physically and mentally. Check out these tips for staying healthy while pursuing a prosperous telecommute career.
How to Reduce Sedentary Health Risks from Sitting at a Desk All Day
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), over 34 million U.S. workers have sedentary occupations. Jobs that consist of prolonged sitting are associated with physical disorders, chronic diseases, and mental illnesses. Since telecommuting jobs usually require long periods of sitting in front of a computer screen, it’s important to learn the health risks involved in this career style and ways to mitigate the effects.
In this article, we explore how sedentary work affects your health and how telecommuters can prevent and reduce potential health risks.
Disclaimer: The tips presented in this article should not substitute advice from a certified medical professional. If you experience any symptoms associated with sedentary health risks, please contact your physician.
How Sedentary Work Affects Your Health
Though sitting at a desk and slumping over a computer may not seem detrimental to your health, it can have serious consequences over time. Here are some common health issues associated with sedentary work.
Over time, continuous poor posture can affect your entire body. The American Posture Institute cites multiple studies that show how poor posture affects:
- Neck and back pain
- Breathing problems
- Digestive issues
- Memory impairments
- Emotional shifts
Posture relates to every other aspect of your body and mind, so it’s important to create a workspace conducive to correct posture and focus on maintaining good posture throughout the day.
Eye Strain and Dryness
Your vision changes as your age, but staring a computer screen every day can expedite such changes. For example, prolonged computer screen viewing can reduce blinking and cause your eyes to produce fewer tears, which creates ongoing dryness. Also, the position of your monitor and whether you wear glasses or corrective lenses while viewing your screen, impact eye strain.
Dry, tired eyes may not seem like a big deal at first, but after years of telecommuting in the same location, staring at the same screen, sitting in the same position, you may notice the effects. Therefore, it’s better to be proactive by setting up a comfortable workspace and taking frequent breaks rather than correcting any future problems.
You know how your body feels stiff in the morning or after you’ve sat on a couch binge-watching your favorite show? You can experience the same effect after working at a desk all day. When you stay in one position for a prolonged period, your muscles tend to stiffen, making it difficult to come out of the position or change to a new position.
One of the benefits of working from home is that you can put your feet up on your desk, sit in a yoga position, or pace around your office without disturbing or offending anyone. Take advantage of your physical freedom and help keep your body flexible.
Swelling and Circulation
Have you ever been on an eight-hour flight and noticed your calves swell up? The same thing can happen when you sit in a desk chair for eight hours straight. Some people notice swelling of the legs (and even arms) at the end of a full workday. Also, sitting in the same bent position for hours can put pressure on arteries and veins, making blood flow to and from the heart, organs, and other tissues a challenge. Therefore, it is critical that you get up and move around the house to keep your circulation system working as it should.
It’s no secret that sitting burns fewer calories than standing and walking around. The more you move, the more energy your body burns and the less weight you may gain. Sitting at a desk all day, however, can decrease your opportunity to burn off your breakfast and increase the amount of energy your body stores as fat. Plus, if you’re the type of telecommuter who likes to keep a big bowl of munchies on your desk, you may pack on the pounds more quickly. The combination of inactivity and increased calories is a recipe for a spare tire.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve that runs down your arm experiences pressure in the wrist. Such pressure can be due to prolonged typing and other computer-related work. Symptoms include numbness or tingling in the wrist, hand, and fingers; pain or tingling all the way up the arm to the shoulder; and weakness of the wrist, hand, and fingers. Carpal tunnel can be quite painful and troublesome, especially when left untreated.
Sitting for prolonged periods is also linked to type 2 diabetes and poor blood glucose management in adults. When you sit at a desk most of the day, your body doesn’t break down sugars and fats as well as it does while you’re moving. You need to remove sugars and fats from your body or else you’ll get a buildup, and your body will increase its insulin resistance. Over time, insulin resistance makes the body less able to break down sugar in the blood, which leads to diabetes.
Anxiety and Depression
Your brain depends on blood flow and a functioning metabolism to work properly. When you sit a lot, blood flow can become restricted, and your body may not break down blood sugar well. As a result, you may experience decreased brain function and changes to your mental health. Some researchers even found a direct correlation between prolonged sitting and depression and anxiety among workers. It seems that workers who sat for more than six hours were more likely to experience depression and anxiety symptoms, and women were more likely to experience such symptoms than men.
How to Mitigate the Health Risks of Sedentary Work
Sitting at a desk is a reality of most telecommuting jobs. Though there are known health risks associated with sedentary work, the nature of the remote workspace is somewhat inevitable. However, there are ways to combat common workspace hazards that may lead to severe, long-term effects. Here are some ways you can avoid all the mental and physical effects of sitting at your home office all day.
“Ergonomics” describes a field of study that focuses on physiological and psychological aspects of work. This includes commercial products, such as ergonomic desks and chairs, which are designed to promote physical well-being and work efficiency. To design an ergonomic workspace, you don’t necessarily have to buy expensive office furniture or new technology. You simply need to adjust your desk, chair, and other workstation elements to ensure it fits your body well. Here are a few suggestions:
- When you sit in your chair, your thighs should be parallel to the ground, your knees should bend at a right angle, and your feet should be flat on the ground. If your legs dangle, or if your knees are higher than your hip bones, adjust the height of your chair.
- When typing on the keyboard, your upper arms should be perpendicular to the ground, your elbows should bend at a right angle, and your forearms should be parallel with the ground. Also, your wrists should be flat (not bent up or down), and your fingers should curl comfortably downward onto the keyboard. If you are reaching upward or downward, or if you are putting pressure on your wrists as you type, adjust the height of your chair and the distance between your chair and the keyboard.
- Position your monitor so that your head remains level and your shoulders can relax. Your eyes should gaze forward (not up or down), and you should not have to squint or move your head forward to see the screen.
Get out the measuring tape and assess your current setup. Make as many adjustments as possible with whatever resources you currently have. If necessary, consider replacing your furniture with items that fit your body better so that you feel more comfortable and supported while you work.
Change Your Work Environment
To avoid sitting in the exact same position every day, vary your workspace by going to a coffee shop one day per week or simply working in a different area of your home. Try to keep your muscles relaxed and avoid straining your body just for the sake of variety. Though working in a snuggly bed can be fun from time to time, it can also wreak havoc on your back and neck. Choose workspaces that are comfortable for your body and promote efficient work.
Get Up and Move
Take frequent breaks to stretch, check the mail, fix meals, and just move around the house. Instead of remaining chained to your desk, grab your headphones for walking meetings or pace around the office while on speakerphone. Do chores like dishes, laundry, and vacuuming as short breaks to keep the blood flowing (and your house clean). Spend your lunch break in the backyard or walk around the block to get some fresh air.
In addition to moving frequently, dedicate at least 30 minutes each day to exercise. Exercise studies continuously prove that cardiovascular activities, weight lifting, and low-impact activities like yoga and Pilates do wonders for the muscles, joints, organs, and mental and emotional health. Though some studies show that people who exercise are just as susceptible to health risks associated with sedentary work, increased physical activity can mitigate some health risks.
Do Work You Enjoy
If you’re going to spend a huge chunk of your day working, you might as well do work you enjoy. Workplace dissatisfaction can lead to depression, which is one of the top three workplace problems that affect employees and costs businesses millions of dollars due to absenteeism and low productivity, according to Mental Health America.
Therefore, as Jim Rohn once said, “Don’t settle for a job that doesn’t express your heart.” Choose a career path that excites you and keeps your heart pumping. You can find telecommuting jobs in almost every industry these days. Use the Virtual Vocations database to find positions that closely align with your lifestyle and career goals.
Don’t Let Telecommuting Make You Tense
The rewards of telecommuting outweigh the risks, but you still have to take responsibility for your mental and physical health. One of the main benefits of telecommuting is that you can tailor your workspace to fit your specific needs. So, to reap the bountiful benefits of a thriving telecommute career, prioritize your health and find ways to make your workspace work well for you.
Are you worried about sedentary health risks from sitting at your desk all day? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to share your story and tips for improving workplace wellness. We’d love to hear from you!
Photo Credit: 1. iStock.com/South_agency; 2. iStock.com/wetcake
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