When many of us think of hazardous occupations, a desk job generally isn’t something that comes to mind. There are certainly few immediate dangers when working at a desk. However, there are a multitude of long-term health risks that can be just as serious.
Here are just some of the biggest dangers that come with working behind a desk and how you can reduce these dangers.
Lack of physical activity
A desk job often involves sitting down all day. This lack of physical activity can lead to many health problems in the long run.
One of the most common health problems is weight gain (particularly if you also tend to snack throughout the day). Without being active, you’re not burning off calories. Being overweight can increase your chance of developing many other health problems including joint problems, fertility problems and diabetes.
Being sat down all day can also lead to circulatory problems and heart disease. If you’re not moving your legs and they are constantly bent, you can increase your risk of developing DVT (deep vein thrombosis) – which could increase your risk of suffering a stroke.
A lack of physical activity also isn’t good for your mental health. Exercise releases feelgood endorphins, which we need to combat depression and anxiety.
All in all, it’s important to try and get some physical activity into your day – even if your job requires you to stay at a desk. Try to plan a workout for the morning or the evening. On top of this, take five minute breaks throughout the day to get up and walk around. You could also use your lunch break to get in some exercise.
Poor posture/poor ergonomics
Many of us adopt a poor posture when sat at a desk. We tend to lean forward, which can eventually put a strain on our lower back and potentially cause permanent back problems.
Typing on a computer all day can also lead to repetitive strain injury (RSI). This may start as a temporary ache in the wrist or hand, but could develop into a chronic pain that is hard to shift.
Both of these problems are easy to fix by improving the ergonomics of your workspace. If you work from home or run your own business, consider first buying an ergonomic office chair that could take some of the strain off of your lower back (an uncomfortable chair will make things worse). Then consider adjusting your desk or chair so that the top of your monitor is at eye level – this will encourage you to sit up straight. Finally, make sure that your keyboard is directly in front of you and just below elbow level. The pain from typing for long periods tends to be because of poor keyboard positioning – when your keyboard is in the right position, there is little to no strain on the arms.
Too much screen time
Staring at a screen all day can also have its health risks. Many people experience eye strain from staring at a screen for long periods, which can also result in dry eyes and headaches. There are some links between this and macular degeneration – which may explain why so many people that work behind a screen need reading glasses later in life.
While you may be able to take breaks from the screen and rest your eyes, there are other ways in which you can reduce the health risks. If you wear glasses, the glare could be making eye strain worse – opting for anti-glare glasses could prevent this from being an added issue. The lighting is also very important – if the room is poorly-lit, the contrast between the room and the monitor could be putting more strain on your eyes, so make sure there is adequate lighting.
There are also software tools that can reduce the blue light emitted from a monitor. Blue light is thought to cause retina damage and is given off by all digital devices. It can also lead to insomnia if you’re using a bright screen at night – screen-dimming software can reduce this glow when working on your computer in the evening.
The average computer keyboard is 20,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat. All this bacteria could be making you sick (if you work in an office and share keyboards, there could be a particularly big risk).
Make sure that you are keeping your keyboard clean. Avoid eating at your desk so that crumbs and liquids have less chance of falling in between the keys and causing build-ups of bacteria. You can also use silicone keyboard protectors to prevent contact from dust and grime and to make cleaning keys easier.
Indoor air pollution
A desk job often involves working indoors all day. This could put you at risk of respiratory issues caused by indoor air pollution (sometimes known as ‘sick building syndrome’). Exposure to dust, mold and radon are all big dangers when sat indoors all day and can lead to infections or lung disease.
Getting outside more could help you to get more fresh air into your lungs, however there are other simple solutions. The first is to keep your workplace ventilated. Opening windows can help to circulate air. Meanwhile, cleaning can also help – this could include getting rid of dust on surfaces, removing any signs of mold and making sure that your HVAC is regularly cleaned. An air purifier could also be a worthy purchase for helping to remove any unwanted contaminants from the air.
Lack of sunlight
A danger of being indoors all day is also lack of sunlight. The sun is our most valuable source of vitamin D – which is important for our skin and bones. A lack of vitamin D has also been linked to depression (some people are more susceptible to this and it is referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)).
Try to get some sun exposure throughout the day. Your lunch break could be the perfect time to get some sunlight. Sitting by a window while you work could also help.