Business Today

Beware! Your job could be sending you to an early grave

Just sitting down for long periods of time could be as harmful as smoking. There is mounting evidence that noxious air, stress, long hours and poor diet all add up to a ticking health timebomb.


Mail Today Bureau   New Delhi     Last Updated: January 18, 2016  | 08:28 IST
Beware! Your job could be sending you to an early grave
One in four is obese, and at risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and infertility. Photo: Reuters

Heart attack. Obesity. Diabetes. Depression. Premature death. Hardly terms you'd associate with an ordinary day at the office.

Yet the alarming truth is your job could be sending you to an early grave. There is mounting evidence that noxious air, stress, long hours and poor diet all add up to a ticking health timebomb.

Just sitting down for long periods of time could be as harmful as smoking. Research by the American College of Cardiology found that prolonged sitting is linked to increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer, and could be just as dangerous, if not more so, to the cardiovascular system as smoking.

A study by the Co-op revealed that desk-bound UK office workers put on an average 10 lb in their first year of employment, with 64 per cent of people blaming co-workers for bringing in too many cakes and other tempting treats.

But help is at hand. We've asked health experts to identify the dangers, and the changes you need to make to minimise the damage.

QUIT OFFICE CANTEEN

THE PROBLEM: One in four is obese, and at risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and infertility.

Nearly six million workers don't leave their desk for lunch and less than one in six get away for the full hour. A lack of breaks, stress and tiredness means many workers are reaching for the wrong foods when looking for a quick food fix.

'If you are sitting at a desk, not only does your metabolism drop to nothing, your appetite increases by doing computerbased work,' says Professor John Buckley of the University Centre Shrewsbury.

Many shift workers are faced with a limited choice of sugary snacks from machines or calorie-laden canteen meals.

SOLUTION: Prepare nutritious meals and snacks at home so you can control portion size, says Dr John Challenor, a consultant occupational physician.

Don't mindlessly eat at your desk. Take a screen break somewhere quiet and concentrate on how much you're eating.

COMPUTER CROUCH

THE PROBLEM: While sitting all day comes with its own risks, sitting in front of a computer is even worse. When office workers are intently focused, they frequently adopt a 'computer crouch' - shoulders hunched, back caved outwards and eyes fixed on the screen.

"If you spend hours in front of a keyboard you'll get aches and pains in your hands, arms, neck, shoulders and back," Dr Challenor says. This slouching can stretch the muscles and ligaments and lead to kyphosis, a curvature of the spine.

Prolonged screen time also takes a toll on the eyes. Up to 90 per cent of computer-users experience problems such as eye strain, headaches, dry eyes, and double vision or blurred vision, according to researchers.

SOLUTION: Adjust your chair so you use the keyboard with your wrists and forearms straight and level with the floor, rest your feet flat on the floor and place your screen at eye level.

Dr Challenor advises selecting an adequate font size, brightness and contrast on screen, and shifting your gaze away from the screen regularly.

OFFICE BULLY

THE PROBLEM: Workplace stress, triggered by job insecurity, tight deadlines, office politics or bullying bosses, is the leading cause of sickness absence, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. While pressure is a good thing, stress is not.

"When pressure exceeds an individual's ability to cope with it, that's stress," says Sir Cary Cooper. The less control you have over your job, the more you'll get ill.

SOLUTION: Most bosses will appreciate an honest discussion. But if they are simply a bully and not open to communication, Sir Cary's advice is simple: 'Find another job. Don't do it right away. Just go find a job and then leave. The costs to your health simply aren't worth staying.'

BREATHE EASY

THE PROBLEM: Does your health deteriorate the moment you get into the office? Your workplace could have Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), a phenomenon thought to be caused by poor ventilation and airborne particles such as dust, carpet fibres, fungal spores and chemical pollutants from cleaning materials and equipment such as photocopiers.

Symptoms that are linked to spending time in a 'sick' building include headaches, nausea, poor concentration, shortness of breath and skin irritation. SBS is also associated with libraries, schools and museums.

SOLUTION: Open windows when you can and report any signs of poor air quality to management, Dr Challenor says. Employers have a legal obligation to investigate complaints.

WORK TILL WE DROP

THE PROBLEM: Research has found employees who work longer hours have a higher risk of a stroke, and double their risk of becoming depressed. A study by the Trades Union Congress found nearly three-anda-half million British workers clock up more than 48 hours a week, with one in 25 men toiling for over 60 hours.

'If you consistently work long hours, you will get ill, be that physically or mentally,' says Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Alliance Manchester Business School.

And it's not just staying late that is bad for health: psychologists warn that constant email notifications are a 'toxic' source of stress.

SOLUTION: Sir Cary recommends planning non-work activities three nights a week, such as going to the gym or seeing a movie.

Having commitments means that you have to leave the office at a reasonable time. And turn off your work mobile phone when you're at home.

(In association with Mail Today Bureau)

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