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Office work bad for your health - study

Office workers who want to lose weight should stand up while talking on the phone and walk over to speak to colleagues rather than emailing them, according to official advice. Picture: Steve Lawrence

Office workers who want to lose weight should stand up while talking on the phone and walk over to speak to colleagues rather than emailing them, according to official advice. Picture: Steve Lawrence

Published May 3, 2011


Office workers spend more time sitting behind a desk than doing anything else. As a result, we’re suffering from backache and poor posture. And new research has revealed that people who work in sedentary jobs for 10 or more years are doubling their risk of colon cancer. Here we reveal the effects your office job is having on your body...


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Recent studies suggest adults now spend about 55 percent of their time at work sitting down – and prolonged sitting is thought to increase blood sugar levels and damage insulin production, which have both been linked to the development of colon cancer.

Another theory is that it causes inflammation inside the body, a risk factor for tumours.

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More than 37 500 people a year in Britain are diagnosed with colon cancer, which has a high mortality rate – about 16 000 a year – as many victims ignore early warning signs.

“Being physically inactive can mean a greater cancer risk,” says Dr Claire Knight of Cancer Research UK.

“Even small amounts of physical activity can be good for your health. They add up over the course of the day – and the more active we are the more we can help reduce our cancer risk.”

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So make sure you incorporate some activity into your daily office routine: take the stairs instead of the lift when you go for a tea break, get off the bus a stop early and walk, take a brisk stroll at lunchtime, and eat your sandwich in the park instead of at your desk.



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Researchers in New Zealand found one-third of patients admitted to hospital with deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – the formation of a blood clot in a deep vein, most commonly in the legs – were office workers who spent endless hours at a computer.

Although DVT has been dubbed “economy class syndrome” because it is common among people who have been on long-haul flights in cramped conditions, Professor Richard Beasley, who led the study, found that deskbound office workers were more likely to be affected.

Of 62 people admitted to hospital with the problem, 34 percent had been sitting at their desk for long periods, whereas 21 percent had recently travelled on a plane.

Beasley said that some “were going three to four hours at a time without getting up”. He recommends walking around the office at least every hour.


TUMMY BUGS: How many times have you snacked at your desk without cleaning your keyboard? Two years ago, scientists working on behalf of the consumer group Which? found that some keyboards had 150 times the acceptable limit of bacteria and five times the amount found on a toilet seat.

Of the 33 keyboards swabbed for food poisoning bugs Ecoli, coliforms, Staphylococcus aureus and enterobacteria, four of the keyboards were considered a potential health hazard, and one was “condemned”.

Two had “warning levels” of Staphylococcus aureus, and two others had “worryingly elevated” levels of coliforms and enterobacteria, “putting users at high risk of becoming ill from contact”.

As a result, claimed Which?, many office workers come down with what has been dubbed “qwerty tummy” (a condition named after the first six letters on a keyboard).

Wiping your keyboard daily will help. Which? found that one in 10 people never cleaned their keyboard, while 20 percent never cleaned their mouse.



Constantly looking down at books or a computer screen can also cause unwanted neck creases and saggy jowls, warns leading cosmetic surgeon Dr Michael Prager.

“If you spend most of the time looking down, then neck muscles shorten and go saggy, eventually causing a second neck,” he says. “We are seeing a lot of people with executive jobs in offices who have this problem.”

Keeping your screen at eye level and using a book-stand to prevent bowing your head for hours on end while reading reports can help prevent neck wrinkles from developing.



The more time you spend at your desk, the more likely you are to be overweight. Standing up uses muscles in your back, core, shoulders and legs, and walking or moving on the spot can use up to 100 calories an hour, whereas sitting presents no such challenge to the body.

Studies have proved that office workers who don’t get up and walk around every hour can gain about a kilogram a year in weight.




Less than four percent of employees drink seven glasses of fluid a day, according to a recent survey of 1 000 UK office workers. As a result, many suffer headaches, a lack of concentration and dizziness. With air conditioning and central heating added to the mix, skin can become dry and parched, adding to the appearance of wrinkles.

Even your eyes can become dehydrated.

“Make sure you blink fully and regularly because your eyes will dry out staring at a screen,” says Karen Sparrow, education adviser at the Association of Optometrists.

“Offices have a dry atmosphere. so strategically placed pot plants can help increase humidity around your desk.”



Figures from charity BackCare show that 50 percent of office workers who use a computer say they have lower back pain, while another survey found that 36 percent of deskbound workers complain of poor posture.

The biggest cause of such problems is not sitting properly at your desk and not having the appropriate chair.

“On a well-positioned chair, your thighs should be at right angles to your body or sloping slightly down when you are seated, and there should be a small gap between the front of the seat and the back of your knees,” says Sash Newman, chief executive of the charity BackCare.

“This helps maintain the natural curve in the lower back and supports your thighs but gives your legs space to move.”



POT BELLY: Sammy Margo, a spokesman for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, says that slouching at the desk puts strain on some muscles and weakens others.

The result? Round shoulders and a pot belly.

“You don’t use your abdominal muscles when you slouch, so you will eventually lose strength and tone in that area,” Margo says.

“Having rounded shoulders and bad posture will also cause your stomach to stick out. Standing up straight can have an instant stomach-flattening effect.”

Maintain the natural curves of the spine, watching for exaggerated arching in the back which could push the abdominals forward, so creating a rounded tummy. Lengthen up through your spine and don”t slump.


BIGGER BOTTOM: Wondered why your bottom is getting broader by the week? Time spent at your desk is certainly not helping to tone your posterior.

“With your knees at a 90-degree angle when you sit, your hamstring muscles and hip flexors are permanently shortened and your buttock muscles stretched but not engaged, so that they are not working or being strengthened,” Margo says.

Just standing up and sitting down a few times an hour will give your buttocks a mini workout and help to avoid the dreaded spread. But walking up the stairs at work is the best bottom-toner of all.



One in two people in the UK suffers from the embarrassing problem of piles (haemorrhoids) at some time in their life, and sitting down on a chair too long can make them worse.

Piles – swollen blood vessels in the back passage – are caused by increased pressure in the blood vessels in your bottom, and being seated for hours increases the pressure placed on the buttocks.



Prager says that frowning or squinting in front of a computer screen means that “over time, you will end up with frown lines” around your eyes, and furrowing in your forehead.

And according to the Health and Safety Executive, staring at a computer screen for hours on end can also cause “tired eyes, discomfort and temporary short-sightedness”.

One study in the Journal Of Epidemiology showed that looking at a screen for more than nine hours a day raised the risk of the progressive eye disease glaucoma.

The Association of Optometrists recommends focusing on something else about 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. – Daily Mail

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