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What 10 Years of Sitting in Your Workspace Does

The average American leads a sedentary lifestyle and increasingly finds him or herself in a sedentary workplace.

Sitting in Your Workspace

According to recent surveys:

  • The average worker spends about 7to 10 hours per day sitting both at work and at home;
  • Fewer than 20% of us work in active jobs, down 83% since 1950;
  • And our time spent sitting at work is up even as 7 in 10 employers now actively promote “wellness” programs.

The long-term health effects of sitting at a desk job are well-studied and documented. So what about spending long periods at your desk do you need to worry about, and how can you prevent them?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Why It Happens
Carpal tunnel syndrome’s symptoms manifest as numbness, tingling and weakness in your wrists as a result of pressure placed on the median nerve of your wrist. This pressure occurs as a result of anything that makes the pathway for this nerve — the carpal tunnel — smaller. In the workplace, this will most likely occur as a result of making the same movements repeatedly with your wrist or having your wrists higher than your hand for long periods of time.

Did You Know?
CTS affects 3 to 6% of all adults, according to studies.

Limiting your risk for CTS in the workplace is possible through a few simple changes to how you work. First, relax your force and grip if you need to work with your hands, and keep your hands warm while working. You’ll also want to make sure your wrists are in a relaxed position and level with your hands. Take frequent breaks and try to alternate activity so your wrists aren’t performing repetitive motions for extended periods of time.

Digital Eye Strain

Why It Happens
Many desk jobs involve computer use. Long-term use may result in eye strain, dubbed “computer vision syndrome.” This is caused by the eye’s natural tendency to work harder when viewing a computer screen, due to a variety of factors, including the brightness of the computer screen, lack of contrast and other issues like viewing angle and glare. Headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain all are symptoms.

Did You Know?
60% of adults spend more than 5 hours per day in front of a digital device.

The easiest and simplest way to alleviate strain is to take frequent 15-minute breaks and focus on distant objects to give the focusing mechanisms in your eyes time to relax. While using the computer, make sure to blink to rewet the eyes and prevent dry eye. Brightly-lit monitors are better, as the eye must work harder to focus on dark screens. Finally, check your monitor position. It should be about 20 to 28 inches away from your eye and not in a position that may cause glare from other light sources.

Bad Posture

Why It Happens
We have a tendency to slouch as we sit. While sitting requires less effort than standing, you still need to keep your body steady for long periods of time. Obviously that is difficult to do, and eventually you’ll not be able to. Pain in your back, shoulders, neck and arms can develop as a result of bad posture.

Did You Know?
Half of all working Americans admit to having back pain each year.

An easy way to check your posture is to keep your ears in line with your shoulders. If your ears and shoulders aren’t lined up, your posture is off. Crossing your legs is discouraged, and if you’re uncomfortable placing your feet directly on the ground, use a ergonomic footrest. Don’t let your shoulders roll forward, and consider using a lumbar pillow to improve back posture. Also stand up frequently and move around, as holding good posture for long periods of time can be uncomfortable.


Why It Happens

Diabetes is a result of the body’s inability to regulate blood glucose levels. Research has shown that extended periods of sitting affect the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, putting you at a higher risk of developing diabetes. Also, our tendency to snack while working at our desks — especially unhealthy snacks — may increase our chances of diabetes even more.

Did You Know?
Those with diabetes miss work at a rate of two to three times that of healthy workers.

Preventing diabetes in the workplace is the same as in your everyday life. Stay physically active, especially if you sit at work for long periods of time. Watch your weight, and if you must snack, stick with snacks that are rich in whole grains and low in sugar. If you smoke, try to quit, as your risk of developing type 2 diabetes is about 50% higher than nonsmokers.


Why It Happens
Obesity occurs when we eat more than our body needs regularly, causing us to gain weight. Weight gain is likely to occur when sitting for long periods of time without sufficient exercise, and obesity is frequently pointed to as the cause of a heightened risk of a wide range of illnesses, including not only diabetes but heart disease, stroke and even cancer.

Did You Know?
Obese workers lead to work productivity losses that are six times that of smokers.

The easiest way to prevent obesity is to watch what you eat. A good diet and exercise regimen helps ensure that the negative effects of your desk job are minimized as much as possible. Like with our recommendations to prevent diabetes, if you must snack, pick ones that are low in sugar and high in whole-grain content. Also keep snacks small and low in calories.


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Jim Gustke

Jim Gustke is a marketing and Internet veteran with a wealth of experience at the intersection of consumer and technology marketing. As Vice President of Marketing for Intuit, he helped lead the reinvention of Quicken and launch the first SaaS version of the popular personal finance software. Prior to Intuit, Mr. Gustke was responsible for business unit management, global branding and product marketing at Lexar Media, helping grow the flash memory company to over $850 million before its acquisition by Micron Technology. He also served as the founding Vice President of Marketing for Ofoto, an online photography service, acquired by Eastman Kodak in 2001. A pioneer in Internet marketing, he joined America Online in 1996 as the marketing leader for GNN, the company’s first Internet Service Provider, and in 1995 as a marketing manager at Polaroid Corporation he led the team that launched the company’s first corporate web site.

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