Fitness The occupational hazards of a desk job can be overcome with proper posture and diet
These days, desk jobs seem to hold almost as many occupational hazards as would commando operations, though the former can be a longer drawn affair. Blame it on the sedentary nature of the job, the insensitive furniture, unsuited diet and a nonchalant refusal to take its occupational hazards seriously, the number of cardiac, endocrine, orthopaedic, muscular and other ailments that afflict people doing desk jobs is staggering.
We spend about a third of our day at the office. So to avoid serious problems later on, it is crucial to adopt healthy work practices at every step along the way.
“There is a right and wrong way to use modern office furniture and gadgets,” points out Parag A. Shastry, chief ergonomist, Godrej Interio, which has been holding wellness@work workshops and informative e-mail services to educate office goers about right workplace habits.
For instance, many of us sit on the chair’s edge, occupying just the front half of the seat, which rests the whole weight of the upper body on the base of the spine. On the other hand, if you were to sit with your spine resting against the chair’s back, the weight of your head and torso is transferred uniformly on to your back, and the lower spine is saved some strain.
Shastry further recommends, “Don’t slouch. Keep thighs parallel to ground and the forearms and wrists straight ahead while using the keyboard. For this, position the computer and keyboard in line directly in front of you. And ensure that your elbows rest on the desk or the chair’s arm rest, whichever is more comfortable. This relieves the strain on your shoulder and neck muscles.”
Space available for manoeuvring shrinks further when we use a laptop as the keyboard width of the laptop is less than the length between one’s shoulders, and we end up cramping our shoulders while keying in.
“Try using an external keyboard and mouse for laptops, which are available in cordless options too,” Shastry says.
Many of us crane our necks up or down, to look at the screen. “No wonder people report stiff necks and spondylosis after a while. A simple matter of adjusting the chair’s height would do a world of good,” Shastry points out. You might also use a laptop raiser which raises the laptop’s screen to match your eye level.
While most desk jobbers don’t spend too many calories while at work, they tend to eat the same amount and kind of food that more active people need.
However, eating less will only invite a hunger pang that makes you binge later on, when you get the chance. “It is wiser for people with sedentary jobs to choose lunch options with a low glycaemia index and calorific value, like salads, fruits such as apple and guava, and whole wheat and multigrain breads or rotis, curd, which are filling, but yet low cal,” says Dr. Y.D.M. Prasad, consultant bariatric physician, diabetologist and endocrinologist. Firms might also consider supplying cups of coconut water or lemon juice rather than tea or coffee to pep up people at work.
Desk jobs tend to be sedentary. So mobility has to be elicited, intentionally. One way of doing it is by locating common necessities such as the water cooler or photocopier, at a location that requires people to walk several yards and perhaps climb a few steps to reach it. The body is not designed to sit for long hours. So every hour, step out to talk to colleagues or access utilities, or just walk for the sake of walking.
“Frequent movement is required to keep the body’s circulation and other functions going well,” says general physician Dr. R. Venkatesh. Firms might also consider including a few exer-cycles at a corner of the office space, for people to do small workouts once in a while. Investing in better workplace settings, equipment and work practices might call for some additional expense; but then, healthy, fit, calm and sharp employees are a firm’s best resource.