Health at Work
Heather Leisy, MD, MBA, MPH
Staying healthy at work is increasingly difficult as society has transitioned from more physically active forms of work to more sedentary positions such as in front of a computer screen. A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that in the early 1960s, about half of the jobs required robust physical activity compared to approximately 20 percent today.
Less calories burned while on the job is a likely contributor to the increase in average weight we are seeing today and the rise in obesity. Regular activity is important not only for its effect on weight, but also for how it can help prevent or improve other health factors such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, depression, and osteoporosis.
So, what can you do if you are tied to your computer all day? The simple act of just standing rather than sitting while at your desk can be a beneficial solution. Many companies have offered computer stands which can be raised so the person can be at eye level with the computer screen while standing. During breaks go for a quick stroll or do some stretching at your desk. If these are not for you, try to increase your exercise outside of work. Aim for at least 150 minutes of active movement each week.
Hand-in-hand with exercise is healthy eating. While at work, avoid the sweet treats brought in by coworkers or the unhealthy choices in vending machines. Food prep or planning, such as bringing in healthy snack and meal options to work, is helpful for stopping rushed food grabs that usually end up being fast food or other unhealthy alternatives. Stay hydrated! Bring a water bottle to encourage drinking more water instead of sweetened beverages or depending on the office’s coffee maker.
Another health concern at work is physical positioning. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), disorders affecting the muscles and bones, called musculoskeletal, are the leading cause of lost work time. Staying in the same position for long amounts of time and repetitive movement can put strain on various parts of your body, including your back, neck, and wrists.
Prevention of musculoskeletal disorders at work, or ergonomics, is performed by evaluating or fitting your workspace to your needs. Key points to think about include:
· take breaks and wear proper supportive gear for joints and back when recommended
· proper bending and lifting techniques should be followed
· while sitting at your desk, your chair should have adjustable height, lumbar support, comfortable cushion, and arm rests
· keep a good posture – sit, or stand, upright with the shoulders relaxed and back
· your screen should sit at eye level and wrists at a straight or neutral position on the keyboard
One disease relating to repetitive work is carpal tunnel in which compression of a nerve within your wrist results in pain and numbness in the hand. Along with proper positioning and breaks,
stretching your wrist, gloves to protect from vibrations, and exercises involving making a fist could assist in preventing carpal tunnel.
For eye health, remember the 20-20-20 rule if performing a lot of close visual work like reading: every 20 minutes look out 20 feet for 20 seconds. Limiting blue light from screens may also help prevent eye strain and headaches. Concentrated work can also slow down your blinking so make a conscious effort to blink to keep your eyes hydrated. If your eyes are still dry, grab some over-the-counter preservative-free artificial tears to assist.
Other ways to maintain a healthy workplace include:
· frequently cleaning surfaces such as desktops, keyboards, phones, doorknobs
· washing your hands with soap and water
· stay home if you are sick
· injury prevention, such as taking care when sitting in a rolling chair, not dropping a bag or cord where someone may walk, and speaking up if you see other unmarked hazards like pooled water or a broken railing
· complying with recommended vaccinations and injury prevention policies like using hearing protection or personal protective equipment
Each work environment has its common accidents or potential hazards, and further details can likely be supplied to you by a representative at your organization upon request. Stay healthy and keep up the good work!
Dr. Heather Leisy is the director of preventive medicine at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza in Florence. She provides preventive medical care and researches and implements methods to improve patient outcomes.