Research shows that certain work environments and habits can be life-shortening. What can be done to reduce these risks?
Certain occupations come with higher risks.
Coal mining comes to mind. According to a research study reported by The Washington Post, people with less education are more likely to work in unhealthy workplace environments that can reduce life expectancy as much as two years, and in some cases nearly three years.
This is partly due to the fact that less-educated people have jobs that pay less, on average, and are less likely to have adequate health insurance. Even for highly skilled trades that don’t necessarily require higher education but pay well and offer health benefits, blue-collar jobs typically involve performing taxing physical tasks, often within harsh environments.
Such labor-intensive work, particularly if it is repetitive, is bound to take its toll on health. Certain occupations, such as police work or firefighting, take on a variety of elevated risks that are considered, “just part of the job.”
But professional work is hardly immune to potentially life-shortening work conditions. Indeed, the sedentary nature of desk work where little or no physical movement is required presents its own set of dangers.
Numerous studies point to the increased likelihood of some kind of pain resulting from sitting all day, not to mention a higher risk of heart disease. Nor is the standing desk the answer, as being on your feet all day is as much a cause of backaches and fatigue as sitting.
Ways to Work at a Desk and Stay Healthy
Business News Daily reports these these recommendations from the American Osteopathic Association to maintain a proper standing/sitting balance for deskbound jobs.
- Sit up straight to reduce back strain. Slouching or hunching your back only makes you, well, a hunchback.
- Feet flat on the floor. Helps to improve your posture and helps you to sit up straight.
- Position computer monitors at eye level. This way you aren’t straining your neck muscles to get a better look at what you are doing.
- Keep elbows close to your body and don’t bend your wrists. Particularly important when using a mouse. If you can’t help yourself, there are various gadgets to keep your wrists in the proper position to avoid the mouse trap.
- Stand up every 30 minutes. Conversely, if you’re working at a standup desk, sit down occasionally to change the routine.
- Walk somewhere. Use the stairs, not the elevator. Go to a colleague’s office instead of emailing. Have a meeting standing up (or if everyone is working standing up, have a meeting sitting down).
A study conducted by Staples showed a connection between taking regular breaks and improved physical and emotional health. Here’s an added plus: more than 85 percent of surveyed employees said they believed taking regular breaks made them more productive.
But let’s say you’re in a healthy office environment that encourages good work habits and regular breaks. What if you are doing what you love (or at least, like)? Are you immune from any unhealthy work-related side effects? Not necessarily.
Related Article: How To Stay Healthy When You Sit At A Desk All Day
Jason Garner, CEO of global music for Live Nation, has what many would consider a dream job. Yet he notes that while on top of the world professionally, personal issues coupled with the demands of the job made him feel, “Like the pressure was going to kill me.”
Look, life can be stressful, regardless of how great things are overall. Garner’s solution: regular meditation and relaxation. That can be achieved with regular yoga classes, or just taking time out regularly to do some deep-breathing and calming exercises. A John Hopkins University study reports the findings of multiple randomized trials that mindful meditation shows a market improvement in reducing anxiety and pain.
Garner also recommends drinking 20 ounces of green juice daily (here’s a recipe). If you’re not into that, though, certainly a healthy well-balanced diet where something like carrots is substituted for potato chips as a midday snack can not only make you feel better but work better.
The takeaway is that while none of us can avoid stress, we can find ways to manage it. As Margaret Tartakovsky, associate editor at PsychCentral points out, “The worst thing for stress is trying to take control over uncontrollable things. Because when you inevitably fail, since it’s beyond your control, you only get more stressed out and feel helpless. So after you’ve thought through what’s stressing you out, identify the stressors that you can control, and determine best ways to take action. Take the example of a work project. If the scope is stressing you out, talk it over with your supervisor or break the project down into step-wise tasks and deadlines.”
Retirement May Not Be So Great for Your Health, Either
Some people rationalize enduring unhealthy working conditions as the price to pay to until retirement age finally allows you to get away from all that. Yet leaving your job, even a job that may be killing you, may not necessarily increase life expectancy. According to an
According to an Austrian study, men had an increased risk of death if they retired before age 67. “One additional year of early retirement causes an increase in the risk of premature death of 2.4 percentage points (a relative increase of about 13.4 percent, or 1.8 months in terms of year of life lost).”
The good news: if you’re a woman, there is statistically little increased risk of premature death associated with early retirement. And for both genders, employees of companies that promoted preventive health policies and who adopted healthy behaviors while working were unaffected.
In the final analysis, while we can rightly blame our jobs for being stressful and even dangerous, it’s up to us to adopt healthy practices at work and at home to help prevent our jobs from literally killing us.
Related Article: 6 Ways to Prevent Employee Burnout