For centuries, the chair has been used for every single human activity like sitting, eating, reading, writing, working and even like a commode for passing stool. During waking hours, one spends majority of time sitting on a chair. The office workers tend to sit continuously 8-10 hours on a chair. Back home, they are on a couch glued in front of TV or again on a chair finishing some undone office work. By sitting continuously for long hours, they inadvertently expose themselves to many health hazards.
In a person sitting upright, force of gravity tends to pull the back down. Thus sitting for long hours, leads to strain on back muscles and eventually backache. This is aggravated by using thick cushioned broad chairs in which one tends to plunge down and the back sags. If nerves of the back or their branches are compressed, there can be abnormal sensations or burning pain in feet and legs. Osteoarthritis, i.e. stiffness of knees which normally occurs due to aging after 60 years or so, occurs early in desk workers, due to sitting for long hours continuously.
Obesity, particularly central obesity(deposition of fat on belly), is another problem that occurs due to being on a chair for long time. This is a precursor for many other health issues like hypertension, diabetes, high levels of bad lipids and heart problems like angina or myocardial infarction.
Sitting and working for long hours in closed rooms puts strain on the eyes leading to visual disturbances. Lack of physical movement and being sedentary affects bowel movements as well, resulting in chronic constipation and indigestion.
The solution to these problems is simple. One should avoid sitting continuously for a long time. Keeping legs dangled below for long should be avoided, to avoid stress on knees. This helps in preventing or minimising osteoarthritis of knees, i.e. stiffness which occurs due to advancing age. Legs can be moved lightly or rested on a chair or stool for a short while in between. This also prevents varicose veins, i.e. widening of the veins of legs.
After sitting for an hour or so, the individual should stand up and move around for about at least 10 to 15 minutes. One can take a walk in the office premises itself. This is good for the back and also prevents eye strain. Another option is, a void a lift and climb stairs as much as possible. Try eating lunch standing while at work. Instead of gathering in a room and sitting around a table for short meetings, colleagues can stroll around and discuss the issue at hand. Those who exercise regularly at home should know that exercise done once in morning or evening is not sufficient. Recent research has shown that exercising for at least 30 minutes, 3 times per week, does not negate the health hazards of sitting always for long hours. The risk is not offset by doing vigorous work- outs at the gym. Being sedentary for long is against normal body physiology.
Nature has devised human body as for other creatures to move around while waking, with short periods of rest in between. The soft and thick cushioned chairs should be avoided. Preferably straight back wooden chairs should be used where the back remains straight
By following such simple measures those doing desk work in offices can avoid many health risks and stay healthy.
Dr Rachna Pande,
Specialist, internal medicine