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When Did Desk Jobs Become So Dangerous?

This is a guest post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

It used to be the biggest workplace health risk us office workers faced was ergonomic injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. HR sent experts to talk to us about the correct chair height and the right hand position for typing, and we tried out special chairs, including the kneeling chair, or sat on inflated balls.

But like everything in life, workplace danger has amped up and PR pros who work at a computer (which would seem to be all of us; heck, 70 percent of us regularly eat lunch at our desk) are now prime candidates for “Sitting Disease.”

It’s very serious. According to a study by the American Cancer Society, men who sit for six hours or more daily have an overall death rate 20 percent higher than men who sit for three hours or less per day, i.e. they are 20 percent more likely to die of any cause than more active men.

In her U.S. News & World Report article, Lindsay Olson describes the effects of sitting disease.

…“Prolonged sitting increases the risk of cancer, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and even death. Here are other shocking statistics:

  • People who sit for more than 11 hours a day have a 40 percent increased risk of death in the next three years, compared with people who sit for four hours or less.
  • Workers who have held sedentary roles for more than 10 years have twice the risk of colon cancer.
  • The longer people sit, the shorter their lifespan, even if they exercise regularly.
  • Sitting for long periods may also affect the development of musculoskeletal disorders.”

Olson recommends that PR pros become more active. Although she says there’s a caveat: “even if you consider yourself active now (meaning you spend 30 minutes or more a day engaging in physical exercise), you’re still considered high risk if you spend eight to 10 hours a day sitting.”

Her advice:

“If possible, aim for more exercise, especially on the days you’re sitting for work. Walking, hiking, biking and swimming are all excellent forms of exercise that counter the effects of sitting.

Also, look into standing and walking more at work and at home. Rather than call or IM a co-worker, walk over to her office. Park farther away in the parking lot so that you have another opportunity to walk. Invest in a FitBit or other pedometer device and aim for 10,000 steps a day. Stand up while watching TV, or at least during commercial breaks. Build activity into your day, even if it’s in five-minute bursts.”

Other options include getting a treadmill desk. Susan Orlean wrote this piece for the New Yorker about her experience with a treadmill desk and the compulsive step count-checking she does with her Fitbit (may need to subscribe to read the entire article).

Of course, there are times when all you’ve got is a chair. If you want to make the best of your situation and ensure you’re practicing the proper posture, perhaps you’re a candidate for the LUMOback, a belt-like device that vibrates if your posture slumps.

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on LindsayOlson.com. You can find her at www.kprcommunications.comLearn more about Alison Kenney.

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