Could Your Job Be Hazardous to Your Health?

January 6, 2012
By Bryan Robinson

When you think of high-risk jobs, it’s usually police officers, crane operators, and bomb defusers that come to mind. But even seemingly innocuous work environments—including home offices—can pose a health hazard. Most of us get swept up in the day-to-day minutiae, so you might not ever realize the toll—both physical and mental—your job might be taking on you. Here are just some of the ideas I mention in my new book, The Smart Guide to Managing Stress, due out this March:

New studies show that sitting more than 4 to 6 hours per day puts you at an 80 percent higher risk of dying. Sitting too long reduces blood flow, builds stress, causes weight gain and can lead to Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Moving around or standing while working greatly reduces this risk. A second study on overtime shows that workers who toil more than 11 hours per day are 67 percent more likely to have a heart attack, metabolic disorders, headaches, and muscle pain.

In combination, workplace threats such as prolonged sitting, loud noises, overtime, unable to turn off your electronic devices at home, bad posture—all can lead to a compromised immune system, heart disease, and other disorders. You may not even realize your stress response is on high alert as you work. That means you are marinated in your own stress juices (cortisol and adrenaline).

The solution? Activate your “rest and digest response” which puts the brakes on your stress response, calms you down, and activates hormones that sustain positive health. How do you do that? Quick and simple stress cushions such as standing, stretching, moving around, walking up and down a flight of stairs (instead of taking the elevator) increases blood flow and oxygen throughout your body, lowering blood pressure and boosting overall mental alertness. Changing your surroundings for just 20 minutes gives your fatigued mind a break and boosts your mood. Getting out in nature (a walk around the block or in a park) or viewing nature from a window calms your fatigued brain. Meditating or contemplating at your desk for just 5 minutes is restorative and refreshes your mind and body.

What about you? Share some of your strategies for outsmarting stress and staying healthy at work.