As humans, we were built to move. Our ancestors never would have dreamed of a life where they could sit at a desk, on a couch or in a car for hours on end without any form of movement. This change to sedentary lifestyles has been detrimental to our health.
Think about a typical day in the office. We drive to work while sitting in our car, we walk into the office and go to our desk, which is likely set up exactly as it has been for as long as we can remember. We sit down and start typing on the keyboard or clicking the mouse; when the phone rings, we reach over and pick it up from the same spot it has been for as long as we’ve worked there. All of these repetitive motions are putting strain on our body. Typing on the keyboard is increasing our risk of carpal tunnel, and keeping the mouse in the same spot is straining the tendons in our hands and wrist as we repeatedly click away. And since we are multitaskers, we are straining the muscles in our neck as we tilt our head to the side and cradle the phone between our head and our shoulder. These movements can lead to potentially chronic injuries.
The trend towards less movement has been occurring for years; in fact, over 15 years ago the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that “physical inactivity [is] a leading cause of death and disability.” With this knowledge, it would seem beneficial for workplaces to transition to a more physically friendly environment. Many people who sit at a desk all day end up with low back pain and carpal tunnel because their chairs are not ergonomic, and it is often a question of upfront pricing. Unfortunately, choosing the more cost-effective chair over the ergonomic chair can cost employers more in the long run.
Combatting this workplace body strain can be as simple as giving employees the option of an ergonomic chair or a sit-to-stand workspace. Many employers require a physician’s note stating the employee requires an altered workspace, which seems counterintuitive – a more efficient workspace would potentially obviate the issues requiring the physician’s attention in the first place. That altered workspace seems more logical than losing an employee to multiple physician appointments, physical therapy appointments, and even surgery – all because employees are sitting all day.
Low back pain is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to health risks and issues caused or exacerbated by physical inactivity. A sedentary lifestyle exponentially increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, and depression – but all of those risk factors can be lowered with physical activity. If the health benefits are not enough to motivate employers to provide a physically friendly workspace, let’s also remember what research has shown – that a healthy person, a physically active person, typically has better brain function, improved mental health, is more efficient in their work and will likely make less mistakes due to fatigue.
Adults should be putting in at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week – but some activity is better than none. Every little bit of physical activity helps lead to a healthier and happier life.
Lauren Bott, PT, DPT