Warning: Your cushy office job might be trying to kill you

This month I thought we take a look at the jobs on the other side of the production wall – the office staff. For many, “reaching the office” has been a long term goal of theirs. The allure of comfy office chairs, air conditioning, and coffee and snack food within easy reach has a very strong appeal to many. The problem is it can be more damaging to the body then working on a production floor.

Now I’m sure the first thing that came to your mind is muscular-skeletal disorders and ergonomics, correct? Actually there are more simple hazards that are far more dangerous. For example, just sitting for long periods can have increased health effects according to a recent study done by Dr. Rikke Krogh-Madsen, a post-doctorate fellow at the Center of Inflammation and Metabolism in Copenhagen. The study showed that people who decreased their walking by a mere 2,000 steps and spent the time sitting showed a 60% increase in insulin levels and triglycerides in the blood in as little as 2 weeks. Steven Blair, Professor of Public Health at the University of South Carolina had similar results during his study in 2010.

Sitting for long periods of time can also increase the potential of deep vein thrombosis, or blood clotting in the deep veins of the legs other research has shown. This specifically occurs in the calves due to decreased blood flow and the natural restrictive effects of sitting on the legs.

If that isn’t scary enough for you, studies done by the American College of Sports Medicine in 2004 have shown that even if you work out like a “roid-raged” teenager three times a week; the simple act of spending 9 hours a day in front of a computer at work and another 2 or 3 hours at home watching Big Bang Theory reruns, you may still be at an increased risk of heart disease then your average manual laborer who doesn’t exercise at all but is on their feet all day.

It all comes down to simple evolutionary anatomy; the human body is designed to move and not sit. Scientists believe that because of our (Homo-Sapien) larger brains, our ancestors required a greater intake of quality nutrient foods which led to need for larger foraging areas. This meant we moved more searching for food and for longer periods of time. In time, evolution eventually gave us the tools we needed to cover those distances. But by sitting all day, we aren’t using any of them! In which case, our bodies become our worst enemies because of its “save it for later” mentality. The problem is for up to 30% of American’s; later never comes.

One of the issues that compound this problem for office personnel is boredom and the readily availability of extremely calorie dense foods at our fingertips. In other words, death by potato chip. It’s a common occurrence. Go into any office cubicle and look around, I’ll bet you find some type of snack food, candy, or general “munchies” lying around. Many of the inhabitants will tell you “I munch on XYZ while doing my TPS reports so I can get through them.” “Otherwise, they would never get done.”

The truth of the matter is that sedentary office staff can cost a company more in health care claims then its production workforce simply because unused muscles become weak muscles. Weak muscles, combined with bad posturing and repetitive motion, become muscular-skeletal disorders. And believe me MSD’s will definitely affect your bottom line. By how much you ask? According to OSHA’s Safety pays website: http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/smallbusiness/safetypays/estimator.html your average MSD will cost the company $78,882 total, per injury. Now, with a 3% profit margin, your sales personal would have to increase their total sales by 2.6 million to cover the total direct and indirect costs of that one injury. That’s just to break even; on one injury!

Fortunately there is a simple solution – movement. Employers should encourage their employees to take frequent breaks and stretch out the legs. I myself take a 10 minute break every hour for a couple of reasons. First the brain can only focus its concentration for about 50 minutes before it starts to drift. This is why many college lectures are only 45 to 50 minutes long. Moreover, walking around causes the eyes to rapidly change their point of focus which is needed to prevent vision loss. Researchers have shown that focusing the eyes at a set distance (like a computer screen) for extended periods of time can lead to nearsightedness.

If your employer frowns on the idea of walking aimlessly around the office then suggest mobile meetings. A mobile meeting is basically a walking meeting around the office, the plant floor, or even outside.

Other options that are available to deskbound employees are desk-side exercising or using a medicine ball to sit on instead of a chair. According to a report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, desk exercising is a proven and effective weight loss mechanism with energy expenditures increasing up to 100 kcal/hr.

At the end of the day no one can argue that our bodies are designed for movement. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending how you look at it) we live in a world of fantastic modern technological marvels that increase our productivity exponentially with little to no movement. If you think about it, it’s the classic double edged sword effect. We need to move, but movement slows us down.

Steve Stankavage

Steve Stankavage

Steve Stankavage is the Environmental, Health, and Safety manager for the Graphic Arts Association. He has over 17 years experience in Environmental Health and Safety with 10 years in the Printing industry.  Prior to GAA Steve was with the Defense Contracting industry but has EHS experience in heavy construction, wind energy, waste management and academia. Steve achieved his Bachelors of Science from Penn State University in Environmental Resource Management and his Master of Science in Safety Sciences from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Steve is a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers and a retired Sergeant First Class of the U.S. Army.

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