Increasingly, sitting at an office desk for hours on end is a common part of our day. A recent survey has highlighted that British employees are working up to 19 days extra each year due to not taking their allocated one hour lunch break, instead choosing to stay at their desks to plough through their work. But what affect does this eagerness to 'beaver away' at our desks all day have on our health?
From weight gain to blood clots, from varicose veins to poor posture - sitting for long periods of time is linked to a host of undesirable health problems.Professor Mark Whiteley, consultant vascular surgeon at the Whiteley Clinic, shares his expert knowledge on these deskbound dangers and the easy activities that we can carry out to prevent them.
1. Weight gain
Humans, like all mammals, are not naturally sedentary. We have descended from hunters and gatherers, and so our bodies have evolved for movement. The more sedentary you are during the day, the fewer calories you use. So, unless you reduce your calorie intake accordingly, weight gain is the most obvious health risk
Muscle action uses calories, so when it gets to lunch time why nottake a 10 minute walk before or after you tuck into your lunch. Not only will this improve your body's metabolism, but it will also help with food digestion.
2. Blood clots
Being inactive for long periods of time can encourage the development of blood clots, particularly in the lower leg.
There are three things that makes blood clot in the veins – changes in the flow of blood, changes in the blood composition and changes in the wall of the veins. In normal motion, the muscles in the legs pumps out of the legs and back to the heart. Sitting for long periods of time means that blood pools in the veins of the legs. Hence the flow is reduced – one of the casues of clots to form. In extreme cases, or if the blood is "thicker" such as being on the pill and being a smoker, or the vein walls are abnormal such as in varicose veins, then the blood can clot in the veins. This can lead to phlebitis or even deep vein thrombosis
Moving your legs regularly will pump the blood up the veins and back to the heart. This exercise can increase circulation and reduce the risk of clots in the veins.
3. Varicose veins
Blood clots are not the only hazard to our legs; a sedentary desk job can also worsen varicose veins or "hidden varicose veins". When you sit for extended periods, the muscles in your legs that normally help pump blood aren't used very much. As a result, in patients with varicose veins or "hidden varicose veins", the blood falls backwards down the leg veins. The blood can then pool in the lower leg, increasing swelling and the risks of skin damage at the ankles. This can be red and itchy (venous eczema), yellow and tenser (lipodermatosclerosis) or brown stains (haemosiderin).
To keep your leg muscles in working form, every half an hour stand up and pump your calves by rising onto your toes repeatedly for 60 seconds."
"Hidden varicose veins" occur when the valves in the veins are not working like in varicose veins, but no varicose veins are seen on the surface.
4. Poor posture
Sitting in one position without moving is not good for the spine, spinal muscles or shoulders – especially if you're hunched over your desk and typing on a keyboard all day.
Every time you venture into the office kitchen to make a cup of tea, bend down and touch your toes 10 times to loosen up your back and shoulders. Then, stretch your arms out to side, up above your head, and back behind you, to loosen up your shoulders. Finally roll your head around in a circle - 5 times one way, and 5 time the other way. The movement of the spine and shoulders will help to prevent muscle cramps and aches.
5. Poor heart function
Sitting at your desk all day without exercise can lead to the heart not being able to pump blood around the body efficiently when needed. Our hearts and blood vessels only stay healthy if we have bouts of regular exercise.
During exercise, the heart can increase it's pumping from 5 litres per minute to 30 litres a minute.Moving enough to increase the heart rate improves the health of the heart and also the arteries by increasing blood flow. Every hour, take a stroll around the office or walk up and down a nearby stairwell to increase your heart rate and get your blood pumping. This will also improve your concentration and performance.