Sitting for hours in the office, having lunch at the desk, and returning home only to watch television could adversely impact our health in the long run, says Geeta Padmanabhan

What does working on a nightshift do to one’s health, asks Gopinath, anchoring a Neeya Naana (You or me?) show on television. “I have been working nights without a break for 13 years,” says a young man, as Gopinath looks on, shocked. “I earn more, but I’m paying the price. My digestion has gone for a toss, I have ulcers, and my BP is high.” Several young people spoke of their experiences after him, all with similar stories.

Survey after survey has revealed that bad work habits are making office workers sick. Sitting for hours in the office, having lunch at the desk, and going home to watch TV or work on the laptop is taking its toll. What you can get as a result of this lifestyle is a scary list, starting with obesity and moving on to diabetes, heart disease, deep-vein thrombosis and potentially life-threatening blood clots.

For every hour spent sitting, the risk of a blood clot increases by 10 per cent, says a survey by the U.K. charity, Lifeblood. Young office workers suffer from eye problems, backache, carpal tunnel syndrome and high BP. These days, heart diseases attack even people under thirty-five. “Please add allergies to this,” says a techie in the programme. “I get sneezing fits in the office,” he adds. Unfortunately, industrial safety rules don’t say much regarding the health of this group.

Some bad habits we seem to have readily embraced. We eat junk food, drink coffee and not water, and put off visits to the restroom. How many hours, or even minutes, of fresh air do you get in a day after breathing canned air? One participant said he got to see sunlight only during the weekends. “Saving time is fine, but poor habits and an unhealthy diet make you less productive, and even simple tasks take much longer as a result,” says a nutritionist.

Health neglected

Caught in the web of longer hours and shorter time schedules, today’s office-goers pay little attention to health, says Dr. S. N. Narasingan, Adjunct Professor, The Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Medical University, Chennai. Most don’t have breakfast, eat a “compensatory” lunch of carbohydrates and saturated fat, and wash it down with soft drinks. Companies serve large portions every 2-3 hours. Employees reach home late, don’t eat vegetables and fruits, and get no exercise. Worse, they're deprived of 6-8 hours of deep sleep, which results in irritability, anxiety and depression. “Though qualified in their respective fields, they don’t have sufficient knowledge regarding health issues,” he says. “We now see more overweight workers with features of insulin-resistant diabetes, high cholesterol and BP at just 20-25 years.”

Time for change

So set your work habits right. You may be the geek-whiz of the company who bags shining performance-assessment reports. But if you’re slumping at the desk all day – and night – subsisting on a high-calorie diet, such reports may not endure. Poor office ergonomics leads to poor blood circulation, muscle strain and fatigue. Sitting all day without a break is like long-distance driving — how do you feel when you get out of the car? Stiff and tired, that’s how. “Get up and move around. There is no correct posture for an eight-hour work day,” says Dan MacLeod, a professional ergonomist.

Second, your footwear. Putting on high heels or spikes to office is a sure bet for sore feet. Bring a pair of flats, put them on while working at the desk, suggests Dr. Holly Johnson, orthopaedic surgeon, Massachusetts General Hospital. Shoes should fit properly, and feel comfortable. Plug your ears if office chatter gets on your nerves. Is yours an across-the-city commute? Long hours in a car/train/bus/train result in more sedentary time, less sleep, higher BMI (body mass index) and an expanding waistline. Walk if you can, or ride a bicycle to office. Avoid all-nighters. Acute sleep deprivation immediately affects work performance. Miss more sleep, your thinking will get clouded, and you’ll end up making bad decisions. Don’t miss breakfast. You can’t focus on an empty stomach. Bite into a fruit first, follow it up with a well-rounded breakfast. Without it, you’re likely to grab whatever is on sale at the food counter. Choose carefully when you order food. Better still, bring a lunch that needs a proper place to eat. Avoid at-your-desk munching. Kimberly-Clark Professional found computer keyboards the dirtiest office equipment — crawling with ATP (adenosine triphosphate) an unstable molecule found in most living organisms. If you insist on eating at the desk, disinfect the keyboard and the surrounding area before and after eating. If you don’t clean up, you’ll be surrounded by days-old crumbs and germs. Gross, isn’t it?