Is Your Desk Job Killing You?

Sedentary life sedentary job = health risks

As a graphic designer and marketing guru, Laurel Struck spends a lot of time with her eyes locked onto her computer screen. Rarely does a day go by without some sort of time crunch or deadline for her employer, AMP Montana (Athletic Medicine and Performance). Over the years, the aches and pains of sitting behind her desk started to add up.

"I saw a chiropractor and massage therapist on a regular basis for lower back pain," Laurel admits. On top of her desk job being a pain in the back, there was the fact that for eight-plus hours she sat there without taking much of a break.

"After kids, it was hard losing the weight and it was hard to find time to be physically active. In my particular job, it is hard to get a walk in over the lunch hour or to take a break." She says it is somewhat funny, "I"m immersed in the medical, nutrition and sports medicine world... and yet I sit all day."

It wasn"t until she started to serve on the company's wellness program that she began to connect the dots between her aches and pains and her line of work. A coworker passed along an article showcasing the dangers of a desk job. According to that article in The American Journal of Epidemiology, if a woman sits for more than six hours a day, she has a 40% higher all-cause death rate. What does that mean? It means higher rates of obesity, higher rates of diabetes, and higher rates of cardiovascular disease. Some health groups have likened sedentary jobs to eating fat-laden foods and smoking a pack of cigarettes a day due to similar health risks.

"You need to have some kind of regular exercise program that you do in addition to the eight hours you spend sitting at your desk," says Angie Kolar, Physical Therapist at the Billings Clinic Occupational Health Department. "If you don't take breaks, you need to realize that the side effects are going to be hard on your heart, on your bones and on your joints."

Laurel Struck didn"t need any of those health red flags to make a change. She caught sight of something that not only raised her eyebrows but struck a cord with her. She discovered the "treadmill desk."

She laughs when she shares, "I spent hours that week watching every YouTube video I could find with news reports. I found it fascinating. The idea was just fascinating to me. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!"

She took the leap and bought a treadmill desk last April and hasn't looked back since. As she steps on the treadmill to show just how easy it is to walk and work, she says, "Now I walk two-and-a-half to three miles per hour while working. That includes doing Photoshop work and laying out ads, not just typing or phone calls. I average five miles a day. A good day, a phenomenal day, which is a day where I have a lot of deadlines, I can shut the door, put the music on and I can get nine miles in a day."

Of course, if you choose this office add-on, there are things to keep in mind Laurel says. For starters, she had to increase her annual shoe budget. "I go through shoes like crazy! A pair of tennis shoes lasts me about three months," she says as she lifts up her sporty black tennies and shows the small hole that"s starting to form between the shoe and the sole. She also says, "You have to revise how you dress. I keep deodorant on hand. If I wear a blazer, I keep an exercise jacket in my office to wear while I walk." And, in the corner, right behind her treadmill sits a tower fan to keep her cool while she walks and works.

If everyone could be more active at work, Angie Kolar knows she"d see roughly 20% fewer patients in her line of work. As a therapist within Occupational Health, all of her clients come to see her after they"ve filed worker"s compensation claims. While many of the folks that walk through her door suffer injuries from industrial types of jobs, roughly two out of ten are from repetitive strain injuries.

"Even if it is 20%, those are individuals who have gotten to the point where the pain and strain is so bad that they have filed a worker"s comp claim. That doesn"t even begin to touch on all the individuals out there that are experiencing those pains," she says.

As part of her job, Angie often coaches businesses on the value of ergonomics, also known as adapting the job to fit the health of the worker.

"I am going to go into your office and see how you sit at your desk and correct that," Angie shares. "I start from the ground up. Are your feet in the right place? They can't dangle. They have to be touching the floor. Are you in the right position to make sure you can decrease the pressure on your joints?" She has a checklist and from that, helps employees make changes to decrease repetitive stress injuries or nerve compression. She says, while you might feel stiff in a wrist or an elbow, it"s really nothing to take lightly. "Anytime you ask a joint, muscle or tendon to do the same thing in the same position day in and day out, it is going to break down." Sometimes the effects are reversible. Sometimes, after years of wear and tear, they are not.

In addition to good posture, Angie says you really need to give your body a rest, and actually several, spread out over your work day. "I usually just recommend that people get up from their desk every half hour. I don"t care if it is just making a lap around the office or walking up and down the hallway or getting another cup of coffee. Just take a break."

When it comes to this pointer, however, Angie says she"s heard a lot of push back from folks who claim, they just can"t. "People always say, "I am so busy. I have to get this stuff done. I have to sit here for four hours and get this done." I say what's the difference if you stand up and make one lap around the office? That is not going to be the difference between whether you get this work done or not."

Despite the changes to her work day, it didn"t take Laurel long to see the results. For starters, the back pain vanished and her muscles started to take shape. "I am just so much more toned," she says. And, her time spent at work is far more fruitful. "I am more efficient. I have more oxygen to my brain. I am happier. I am less tense. Things just roll off my back a little bit easier. How do you put a price tag on that?"


The chronic discomforts of a sedentary job

So how bad is the desk job damage to our bodies? One health firm took a study on a little more than 2,000 workers and found that 60% of them were plagued by one or more of these ailments.

  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Eye strain
  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Wrist Pain
  • Carpal Tunnel

Survey from Lumo Body Tech, a health services firm


It"s estimated that companies lose $100 billion annually on lost productivity due to workplace absences related to repetitive stress injuries.

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