Sitting is the New Smoking: 5 Office Habits That Suck for Your Health

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Do you find that 8 hours a day, 5 days a week you’re sitting in the one spot?

If so, you’re not alone. A study last year revealed that 50% of Australians have jobs that involve sitting at least some of the time. Whether you’re in office work, retail or customer service, you’ll probably find that your bottom has left a nice little imprint in your chair.

But what you might not know is that living a sedentary lifestyle can put you dangerously at risk for all kinds of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease or cancer. Even mental health conditions like anxiety and depression have been linked to sitting for long periods of time.

“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking,” says Dr. James Levine, a professor at the world-famous Mayo Clinic. “We are sitting ourselves to death.”

To add insult to injury, there are a number of other aspects involved in our jobs that could be contributing to ill health, aside from just sitting.

No matter the size of your pay packet or how important your job is, no amount of wealth is more valuable than your health.

Here are five of the most common office habits putting your body to sleep, and what you can do to take back control:

1) Eating lunch at your desk

We get it. The overpriced focaccias next door and your skyrocketing bills at home have made you want to save on your daily lunches. So you start bringing leftovers from home in containers, and ditching your colleagues’ café hangs to eat lunch at your desk instead.

While this may be a wise decision for the wallet, it may not be so great for your health. Think about it: you’re sitting for most of the time. Why sit during the one-hour per day that you get to roam around?

Solution: Take a 15-minute walk to a nearby park and enjoy your lunch outdoors. Not only will you be getting extra exercise, which is great for your body, you’ll be enjoying a change of scenery and fresh air, which works wonders for your mind…not to mention the healthy dose of vitamin D you’ll receive from getting some good old sunlight.

2) Slouching in your chair

Stressful emails, demanding orders from your boss and a headache from hell will slowly make you want to curl up in your chair throughout the course of your day. But watch out for your back! Slouching forward can put stress on your lower back and slowly change your posture over time for the worse.

In a 2002 study of 60 people working at a Sydney call centre, up to 70% reported aches and pains. After instruction about posture, that number fell dramatically.

Solution: Everyone is different, but there are a few general rules of thumb that seem to have positive effects for the broader population. According to Ergonomics now, “your knees should be at right angles so your feet are firmly on the floor…and your spine should be slightly tilted back so there is less pressure on the discs.”

Don’t be afraid to make modifications to your chair if it’s adjustable, or request extra comfort from management. Even a small cushion wedged behind the small of your back can make all of the difference. Standing desks are another option for those who suffer from sitting-related back pain. It’s been found that up to 90% more pressure is applied to your lower back when you sit than when you stand.

3) Failing to take enough breaks

Not taking time away from work during the day has a myriad of ill health effects. Not only do you maximise your sitting time which is not good, but you also fail to give your brain a rest from the mental focus required of you during your work.

This can skyrocket your stress levels, fatigue your adrenals and create aches and pains in places you never knew existed. Experts suggest standing up every 20 minutes, to give your body and mind a rest from the grind.  

Solution: Schedule frequent mini breaks in your calendar during which you can grab a coffee, go for a walk outside or do some light yoga exercises. Another clever idea is that each time you visit the toilet, make a point of taking a ten-minute break afterwards to complete a walking meditation or socialise with your colleagues. If you’re struggling with stress in general, find out if your employer has an employee assistance program (EAP), where you may be able to access free counseling services.

4) Eating poorly

When we’re stressed or overworked, it’s easy to justify those frequent trips to the vending machine or that daily chocolate muffin for breakfast. But combine poor eating habits with low physical activity, stress and poorly ventilated offices and you’re courting disaster.

Office culture tends to foster a focus on birthday cakes, boardroom snacks and Friday night drinks. While these can be okay in moderation, make sure you don’t throw your health out the window just to fit in.

Solution: Every Sunday night, have a loose idea of what you’re going to eat the following week so that you have a plan to stick to. A bit of well-planned meal prep can help you say no to those afternoon slump binges, while thinking about what you’re eating will assist you to make more conscious eating decisions.

5) Working overtime in the office

Again, if your job is a sitting job, then it follows that the more you work the more you sit. Prolonged sitting is associated with a range of health problems including musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease and even premature death.

Solution: If the daily workload is getting too much, then consider ways of reducing it. Delegating tasks or conversations with your boss are good places to start. But if you really can’t avoid this in your career, then a good option is to find ways to do your work while on the move. Have an important call to make? Do it via headphones while you take a brisk evening stroll! Need to check a backlog of emails? Try doing it on your phone while you work out on the elliptical at your local gym. It all counts. No career is worth compromising your health.

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