Is Your Job Good (or Bad) for Your Health?

Handsome businessman working with laptop, outside

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Work is work. Never has a truer statement been uttered, and when it comes to work there are two main options: an office job or a physical job. Consider any field of work you could possibly go into or simply name any job that pops into your head and they can surely be classified into one of those two areas. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and myself, speaking as a very physical person, I stand firm in my beliefs that human beings were not meant to sit for eight to 10 hours on end. There is something very unnatural about the entire thing, alas, it is the reality of 21st century American life: a nation constantly on its rear. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, six of the seven most common well-paying jobs in the United States involve working in an office, as reported by Mic.

Looking far ahead into the future, the modern-day man may go down the history books (or as waxed figures) sitting hunched over at desks staring at wax computer monitors, our spines curled forward like macaroni noodles, our torsos paunchy, and our butts flat. What you can’t obviously see, or maybe slightly interpret from the looks on our faces are our cloudy and glum brains. I’m sure not all of this feel this way, but from time to time you’ve felt this way at your desk job. And there may be good reason why sitting slumped over your desk for so many hours a day can make you feel glum — besides countless studies showing sitting’s ill effects — the crappy posture, slumped over, neck bent, feet not firmly planted, and arms and hands on the verge of getting carpal tunnel can really mess things in your body. These problems go far beyond your inability to stand up straight: Sadly, they really hit your brain, circulation, and even your sex life. Bet you didn’t think about your desk job along those lines.

While working on your feet in a physically demanding job like construction or waiting tables may seem grueling, working a sedentary desk job is wearing down your body in a different way.

Here’s what your desk job is doing to your body.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

1. It leaves your brain scrambled

In order for your brain to stay sharp and not turn into a cloudy mess of gray matter, it needs oxygen — the stuff that’s essential to life itself. What happens is that while you’re sitting, you aren’t taking large, full breaths, which reduces the amount of oxygen getting to your blood and extremities. Murat Dalkilinc, a TED-Ed speaker and physical therapist based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, explains that when you sit and slouch, your spine curves, cutting out space for your lungs to expand as you breathe.

If not enough oxygen gets to your brain, it leads to difficulty concentrating and is one of reasons why it’s always good, if you’re having trouble concentrating to go for a walk to get the oxygen flowing again.

2. It hurts your neck

Most people that work on computers, which is probably everybody and their mother, can attest to this: Not only are you looking at a computer screen for eight-plus hours a day, you’re probably doing it on a laptop, which forces you to look down rather that straight ahead if you were working on desktop. This neck ache is referred to as “text neck,” and it’s definitely a thing. “Text neck” is the impact of what looking down at a screen, like a smart phone, has on your neck.

Spinal surgeon Kenneth Hansraj published a study in November 2014, which looked at, among other things, the impact of the “text neck” phenomenon. Hansraj found that even when standing up perfectly straight and doing everything you’re supposed to do in terms of posture, your neck is still carrying 10 to 12 pounds, you head, so in that respect, it’s still a strain.

With “text neck”, as you start to bend you neck forward to look down, the amount of weight increases. Hansraj says that by the time you neck is at a 60-degree angle, it’s like your neck is holding about 60 pounds, which happens mostly when you look down at your phone. What better reason than now to give your phone and texting a rest.

3. It stresses your heart

Sitting for prolonged periods of time or taking part in “sedentary behavior” can stress your heart and increase your risk of health complications from heart disease, says Dr. I-Min Lee of Harvard Medical School.

According to another related study, researchers found higher rates of type 2 diabetes, cancer and cancer-related deaths in people who spend a huge chunk of their time not fully engaging their bodies. Hopefully some of this scientifically confirmed data will scare you out of your chair and get you moving.

4. It may be linked to cancer

The horrific C-word. And even more horrifying is that fact that sitting may be linked to increased chances of cancer. A study conducted by Dr. David Dunstan, showed that sitting allegedly increased the chances of getting colon cancer by 30%, lung cancer by 54%, and uterine cancer by 66%, but the study acknowledged that more research is needed,

Another frightening study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that with every two-hour increment of time spent sitting, the risk for different cancers rose at different rates: 8% for colon cancer, 10% for endometrial cancer, and 6% for lung cancer. Add on another later to the scariness to the results of the study: The effects were present whether or not the study subject was physically active or not.

ab crunches on fitness ball, exercise

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5. It cancels out all those crunches you’ve done

Your sedentary at-work slouching may be sabotaging your effects for a strong physical physique and sturdy core.

“When we talk about posture, it’s not just about the loss of core musculature,” Dr. Brad Thomas, orthopedic surgeon at Beach Cities Orthopedics in California, told Mic. “It’s the loss of pelvic control, too. Your hamstrings attach to your pelvis, and your paraspinal muscles attach to the pelvis. When you roll the pelvis from sitting, it tightens the hamstrings, which tighten the lower back. Then that gives you poor abdominal engagement, which shortens the low back muscles and sets [you] up for lower back pain. All the parts of the body are just one big connected unit.” Sitting is a rough business.

6. It weakens your sex muscles

Anything that hinders our sex lives makes us sad. Especially since we think we’re really not doing anything wrong — we’re just trying to make a living. But when you’re sitting, you’re not using your pelvic area in any way, making your muscles weaker — specifically the ones that play a large role in sex.

“When you put people in a workplace where they’re stuck sitting, they basically lose all of those core coordinator muscles around their pelvis and lose that pelvic floor strength,” said Thomas. Since sitting weakens the pelvic floor muscles that are used to control the bladder, the bowels, and if you have one — the uterus. Weakening of these muscles can mean less control of what’s coming out of you.

This is your brain on exercise

Let’s just point blank state this: Exercise is good and all forms of physical activity that get even a little sweat going are good. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that you should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, along with some muscle training. Those 150 minutes per week come with an array of benefits: a sharper mind, prevention of Alzheimer’s, storing sensory memories, increased release of mood-enhancing endorphins, and overall better brain power.

A physical job has its own negatives

Although there’s a lot of evidence to prove that a sedentary job is worse for you than a physical job, there are other stressors that result in being part of the physical/active workforce. One of which is stress on your lower back.

Dr. Ronald Taylor, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation for Beaumont Hospital in Michigan, believes “the most common cause of chronic back pain is stress. So if you’re in a job where you’re under stress, you’ll have more back problems than someone who isn’t. As far as your back’s concerned, you’re digging ditches.” If you’re in a job that’s more physical, and you don’t fight back with proper stretching before hand, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

That means when you’re working a stressful job and carry your stress in your back, if you don’t fight back with proper stretching, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Since your back is such a massive part of motion, there are so many ways you can screw it up. You can strain your lower back from “repetitive impact” like running, twisting it if you lift and turn in one sweeping motion, or using improper form like lifting from the legs when you’re picking up heavy objects — which happens in almost every labor job. You’re also at risk for shoulder problems, especially if you’re continuously lifting heavy objects.

Lastly, there is also the possibility of screwing up your feet if you’re not wearing the proper supportive footwear. The active workforce is open to getting plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the band of tissue at the bottom of your foot that becomes tightened, inflamed, or even torn from repetitive walking — again, this can all occur without proper arch support. Another common ailment is also Achilles tendinitis, which is the rip or tear of the tendon stretching from you calf to your heel.

The moral of the story is that whether you’re an office worker or an active worker, make sure to take some time to stretch and take all necessary precaution to keep your sanity and your body intact.

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