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You do everything you can to lead a healthy life, eat whole foods, use natural soap, keep active in your spare time, but for most of the daylight hours each week you’re chained to a desk. Well, metaphorically anyway. Many of us undertake sedentary jobs, spending hours slumped in a chair staring at a glowing computer screen. Our bodies are not built for this, in fact, we’re slowly killing ourselves by not moving enough. There are many health risks that could already be affecting you, so here’s what you need to know and what you can do to protect yourself.

office-932926_1280Tookapic ‘Work Desk’ CC0 via Pixabay

Get On Up!

Back in 1960 half of the jobs in the US were physically active ones, but now it’s less than 20%, according to research carried out by the American Heart Association. Sitting for hours on end puts the human spine in an unnatural curvature and compresses our lower back. Over the long-term your spine flexibility decreases and your spinal discs are squashed. But it’s not just chronic back pain you need to worry about, because your entire body goes into standby when you sit down for too long.

You burn less calories, your blood pumps sluggishly around your body and your muscles deteriorate. Your brain function will also suffer, making it harder to think and be productive. All of this is down to the fact that you are not moving. Just a simple walk engages your muscles, sends blood pumping around your body, triggers mood-enhancing chemicals to be released in the brain and gets the organs in your body active.

stairwell-690870_1280Unsplash ‘Stairs’ CC0 via Pixabay

So the message here is to not sit down for too long. One or two hours is more than enough, and then get up and just walk or stretch. A simple stroll to the toilet, to make a coffee, to the photocopier or the water cooler, just find something to get you walking. Swapping the elevator for the stairs is an easy way to move more, and even if you have nothing to get up for then just do a lap of the office.

There are a couple of really useful apps to remind you when you need to get moving. iPhone owners can download the Stand Up! app and for Android users there is the Stand up app. They both do the same thing, regularly reminding you to get up off of your behind and take a break from sitting down. You can also use the app to make sure you’re looking away from your computer screen regularly too, which brings us onto our next point.

Stare into the Abyss

We’re staring at screens more then ever before. The Vision Council’s latest research reveals that almost 60% of Americans are looking at the screen of a digital device for five or more hours every day, and 90% stare at blue light emitting screens for two or more hours a day.

The blue light emitted by computer screens, tablets and smartphones is responsible for causing computer vision syndrome, with symptoms like dry and itchy eyes. These short term effects are discomforting, but the long term effects of staring at blue light screens are more worrying. This bright blue light can reach far into the eye and retina, which will eventually cause damage to your eyes, perhaps bringing on serious eye problems like cataracts and deteriorating vision.

work-933061_1280Tookapic ‘Night Work’ CC0 via Pixabay

Giving your eyes a break from the screens we’re all becoming ever more accustomed to is important. One rule of thumb has been developed dubbed 20-20-20. It goes as follows; look away from your screen every 20 minutes, focus on something more than 20 yards away, for at least 20 seconds. It’s a pretty simple thing to do and your eyes will thank you for it.

There is also a great piece of software called f.lux that changes the color of your display according to the time of day, matching it to indoor lighting and removing much of the blue light emitted. If you’re working late into the night blue light will inhibit the release of a hormone called melatonin that helps to prepare the body and mind for sleep. With f.lux, as the sunsets your screen color and brightness changes, mimicking the natural loss of light and helping to keep your circadian rhythm in check. Another tip is to stop looking at any light emitting screens at least an hour before hitting the sack, as this can really help you get to sleep more easily too.

Simple Hacks That Help

As more and more research is conducted into the risks of sedentary occupations the number of hacks are just going up and up. Standing desks are becoming increasingly popular, and if you have a meeting at work why not make it a walking meeting. Also instead of calling someone who is just down the hall walk down there and speak to them in person. You could even invest in a Wurfboard, a simple inflatable mat that keeps you moving while you stand, engaging muscles, improving balance and making standing up more comfortable.

6182812926_84db419216_bRamsey Beyer ‘Standing Desk’ CC2.0 via Flickr

There is plenty of help out there now for people who spend too much time sat down and in front of a computer so take advantage of it. There are so many excuses to stay still, and too many distractions that keep us from doing what our bodies are built for, so it’s down to you to remember to keep moving!

References:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/national/the-health-hazards-of-sitting/750/

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/much-sitting-linked-heart-disease-diabetes-premature-death-201501227618

www.businessinsider.com/how-staring-at-a-screen-hurts-your-eyes-2015-1/?r=US&IR=T#.VxiVCpN97-a

http://www.treehugger.com/gadgets/how-use-screens-night-without-ruining-your-sleep.html

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/01/12/health/health-hacks-office/

http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/08/10-easy-ways-to-hack-your-office-desk-job/

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/The-Price-of-Inactivity_UCM_307974_Article.jsp#.VxhV-5N96u4

http://www.thevisioncouncil.org/digital-eye-strain-report-2016

Featured image: Alexas Fotos ‘Surfed Too Long!’ CC0 via Pixabay

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About Jack Taylor

Jack Taylor’s stories have been printed in The Yak and KuBan, and published online at SurfSection, Deus Ex Machina, Drift Surfing and Drifting Thru. When not writing he’s out catching waves or planning his next overseas adventure. Follow him @byJackTaylor

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Natural Living