Productivity

Working at Your Desk All Day Could Be Killing You

From an ergonomic perspective, the typical workspace is a cluster of slow-motion booby traps.
Working at Your Desk All Day Could Be Killing You
Image credit: Chad Springer | Getty Images
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Not to sound like an alarmist, but your desk could be killing you -- and your business.

An estimated 75 to 80 percent of Americans suffer from lower back pain due primarily to our sedentary, sitting-saturated lives. All that discomfort adds up to a roughly $100 billion price tag each year, which is well over half of the $170 billion businesses spend on occupational illnesses and injuries. 

And it gets worse.

Related: 4 Science-Backed Ways to Increase Productivity

Last year, the downside of desks made big news when the Annals of Internal Medicine released a study entitled "Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis."

That’s not the sexiest headline, so when CNN ran the story, they went with something a bit more on the nose -- “Sitting will kill you, even if you exercise.” Among other things, the study found that “prolonged sitting,” meaning eight to 12 hours a day, can lead to increased rates of heart disease, cancer and chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

For anyone who makes their living -- and lives their life -- at a desk, those are startling facts. Here’s how to defend yourself.

How Your Desk Is Killing You (Infographic)

Your posture.

Turns out your mom was right. Good posture matters. Hunching over your desk -- with your back curved forward -- puts undue stress on your upper back, lower back and neck. This stress comes primarily from misaligning the height of your desk and chair.

Aim for two posture musts. First, set your monitor at eye level so you don’t have to look too far down. Second, adjust your chair to match the height of your keyword so that keeping your back straight, your neck and shoulders relaxed and your arms resting comfortably while you type, all feel natural. If you have to strain, it’s time to adapt.

Related: Being a Freelancer May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Your tools.

Sure they’re small, but your keyboard and mouse lead to all sort of issues. According to the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 76 percent of people suffer musculoskeletal symptoms and “the prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders has been reported to be as high as 81 percent" from the incorrect use of both a keyboard and mouse.

You can confront these issues by using an ergonomic mouse or ergonomic keyboard. Or you can reduce unnecessary movement by increasing your mouse tracking speed.

Your screen.

At the risk of being obvious, human beings were not built to stare into harsh, poorly lit screens for eight to 10 hours a day. Add to that the one to two hours on average we spend away from work also staring at screens -- our phones, tablets, laptops and televisions -- and one conclusion stares back; our eyes are suffering.

The best way to preserve your eyes is to take regular breaks from your screen throughout the day -- even if they’re as short as 30 seconds -- and to avoid all screens during breaks or lunch.  Also, you can “stretch” your eye muscles by looking up and into the distance. Go outside when you’re eye stretching. Natural light helps immensely, as does getting FL-41 tinted glass for your glasses themselves.

Related: A Guide To Design New-Age Workplace For Improved Productivity

Your chair.

Lastly, and probably most important of all, sitting at your desk for too many hours every day can quite literally kill you. As the Annals of Internal Medicine Sitting found, sitting for prolonged periods has been scientifically linked to an increase in diabetes, cardiovascular events and even cancer.

If nothing else, take hourly breaks to stand, stretch and walk around. Look into standing desks, too. The use of standing desks has been shown to lead to a significantly lower BMI as well as counteract the life-ending effects of long-term sitting. And as Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow, recently told Business Insider, “Always be moving. I use a standing desk all the time, and I frequently use a treadmill desk so I can walk while I do email.”

Don't take it sitting down.

It’s true. Your desk may be killing you and your business.

At the very least, it’s likely causing serious problems like back pain, neck pain, eye pain and general musculoskeletal issues. To defend yourself, follow the simple advice above. It could be the best investment you ever make for your business. And it might just save your life.