You know the scene. It’s a fluorescent-lit room filled with cubicle pods or rows with employees multitasking all day long, typing on keyboards while on a conference call, and sneaking in quick frequent checks of text messages or emails on their smartphones always within reach.
With no down time for a real meal, employees grab a quick fast-food, or vending-machine lunch at their desks, lest they lose any precious productivity.
Technology has no doubt made our lives easier in countless ways, but many studies have shown it also has led to greater stress and often unhealthier lifestyles.
Even after we leave the office, we remain tethered to our devices. We sit on our couches working, or playing, on our tablets, and laptops and smartphones, often times while also watching television.
Sitting for hours on end has resulted in serious health risks.
Just last month, the Harvard Business Review gained notice in the news and social media for an article titled, “Sitting is the Smoking of Our Generation.”
Isn’t this a bit dramatic? The experts say no.
“There is no doubt we have seen an increase in sedentary-related health issues,” said Sarah Jensen, chief clinical officer with Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers, which operates in eight states and has local offices in Naperville, Aurora, Batavia, Bolingbrook and Oswego.
In fact, the health problems caused from our sedentary lifestyles are leading to more deaths than those directly linked to tobacco use, according to research cited by the Harvard Business Review article.
“You might already know that the death rate associated with obesity in the U.S. is now 35 million. But do you know what it is in relationship to tobacco? Just 3.5 million,” the article stated.
A 14-year study of more than 120,000 middle-aged adults showed the mortality rates of those who spent six hours a day or more sitting compared to those who reported three or fewer hours, was linked to a 34 percent higher mortality rate for women and 17 percent higher for men over those 14 years, according to the American Cancer Society.
Setting aside the more serious health risks, looking at computer screens and mobile devices all day — and evening — long is causing a myriad of physical injuries.
“Most people don’t correlate sitting in a chair as creating injury or health problems, but we see a lot of them,” said Jensen, a 14-year practicing physical therapist.
Many of the more common conditions she sees are carpal tunnel in the hands and wrists, elbow tendonitis, “lots of neck and shoulder tightness,” lower back pain, overall joint stiffness and pain, disc issues and even rotator cuff. Much of these conditions are connected and can be sourced to one central problem.
“Sitting at a desk and looking at computer screens for any length of time each day can lead to poor posture, and more often than not it is slouching forward,” she said. “ If we can correct (a person’s) sitting posture that can often bring everything else into alignment.”
When a client comes to one of Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers, the physical therapist will do an analysis of how the person sits at his desk. The therapist will then show the client how to make simple corrections to their work space that will help them over time.
Some of that is examining the angle of their computer screen.
“We tend to look either too far down or too far up, causing strain on our necks,” Jensen said.
Ideally, it should be set so that our eyes are looking at the upper two-thirds of the screen.
Then lumbar support is addressed and the client is encouraged to use what is called a lumbar roll in their chair, starting smaller and then building it to a larger size over time.
“A lot of these fixes are not expensive,” Jensen said. “We have showed some clients that they can even use a towel rolled up with duct tape, And that can easily be portable.”
Once clients are done with their consult, and therapy, they are given an exercise program to do at home, but the key for continued recovery can be a simple one.
“Every hour get up, even just for a few minutes and stand up,” she said, and do what are called reversal of posture exercises. These involve gently bending backwards, rotating of the head and rolling the shoulders.
But when we’re swamped with work, time can easily fly by, and we forget to take breaks. Jensen and the staff therapists encourage clients to post a reminder note on their screens, or set an alert to pop up on screen, or simply set a timer on their smartphone. Then, leave the smartphone on the desk during the break.
“Because people are so attached to their mobile devices, we tend to use them to communicate even when we get up to walk. We’re texting or sending out emails,” she said. “Instead, get up and go talk to (co-workers).”
Taking an electronic-free walk and break is much needed not just for purely physical reasons, but to clear our minds and reconnect with our co-workers. This can be a great de-stresser, Jensen said, which has residual positive effects on our bodies. A walking meeting is a mobile meeting of a different kind.
Companies that want to address wellness with their employees can consult with Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers, which does perform onsite ergonomic consultations for companies and training.