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Introduction
Energy expenditure associated with sedentary behavior
Health risks
Cardiovascular effects
Office work and mental health
Musculoskeletal disorders
Positive effects associated with office work
Working from home
Conclusion
References
Further reading


Office jobs significantly contribute to the growing trend toward professions that shift the nature of occupations from active to sedentary. A cause for this change is the shift from paper-based to digitized ways of working. The shift from active to sedentary lifestyles has resulted in prolonged periods of sitting among office workers, with workers spending two-thirds of their working hours in the sitting position, with the average bout of sitting lasting approximately 30 minutes.

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Sedentary behavior is associated with a range of health consequences. Sedentary behavior is described as any behavior characterized by an energy expenditure of ≤1.5 metabolic equivalents (METs) either in a sitting or reclining position. This is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, associated cardiometabolic disorders, type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, coronary artery disease, musculoskeletal disorders, some types of cancers, and early mortality.

Energy expenditure associated with sedentary behavior

A study conducted in 2011 determined that the average energy expenditure declined among individuals at work between 1960 and 2010. This change in energy expenditure has been associated with an average decrease of 100 calories per day. This accounts for as much as 80% of the average increase in body mass among individuals in the same period. Both being overweight and obesity are growing in prevalence worldwide – particularly as they present risk factors for the development of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in adult populations.

To quantify this association, for each 2-hour increment in period spent sitting, there is a 5% increase in obesity and 7% in mortality, respectively. Prolonged states of sedentary behavior are also associated with an increased risk of musculoskeletal disorders, particularly lower back pain. In addition, there is an increased risk of sarcopenia, which increases by 33% per hour of incremental sitting.

Health risks

Several studies have demonstrated that sedentary behavior is associated with a higher risk of developing some types of cancers, such as colorectal, ovarian, prostate, and endometrial cancer.

Premature death is also a substantial health consequence associated with the sedentary behavior associated with office jobs. The World Health Organization has demonstrated that, among those who spend their time sitting, there is a 1.4 times increase in the risk of premature death after 12 years relative to peers who spend less time sitting at work.

Cardiovascular effects

The WHO and the International Labour Office (ILO) have estimated that in 2016, 398,000 deaths associated with stroke and 347 with heart disease were linked to working more than 55 hours per week. Between 2010 and 2016m the number of deaths associated with heart disease increased by 42%, and for stroke, 19%.

This is particularly pronounced in mean (with 72% deaths occurring in males~), as well as those loved in the Western Pacific, South-East Asia, and among middle-aged or older employees. As such occupational burden is an established risk factor for the burden of disease, causing ~1/3rd of the total estimated work-related burden of death.

The Read Next: Effect of Sedentism on Mental Wellbeing

Office work and mental health

Outside of physical health, several psychosocial health consequences are associated with office work. Recent figures for well-being at work demonstrate that a high level of sick leave is attributed to stress, anxiety, and depression. In total, 27 million working days have been estimated (as documented by the Labour Force Survey in the UK). Among these, 10.4 were attributed directly to workplace-induced stress, anxiety, and depression, while 7.5 million were attributed to musculoskeletal disorders.

It has also been demonstrated that the physical environment can affect this, changing the psychological and behavioral outcomes of employees.

Musculoskeletal disorders

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) are a current and growing challenge to public health. They result in health-related absences from work. The most common of these include muscle tightness, joint pain, joint stiffness, and swelling in the associated area. These problems occur predominantly in the back and upper extremities. Office workers who were older, female, worked for long hours and had greater experience were at higher risk of WMSDs.

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Positive effects associated with office work

There are some positives associated with office work:

  • Increased collaboration and socialization associated with face-to-face communication and increased opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration. There is also an increased probability of establishing new links and connections that can facilitate individual well-being as they offer new potential opportunities for career development and fulfilling professional projects.
  • A benefit associated with the provision of specific equipment enables workers to work optimally.
  • Increased focus results from the separation between the home, which contains several distractions such as home stresses.

Working from home

Studies have demonstrated that working from home can ameliorate the burden placed on workers in an office context. Most research demonstrates a positive effect elicited by the working-from-home experience. This is particularly attributed to a decrease in work-related stress, savings on daily commuting, and the ability to balance work and life more readily – with an individualized approach to this management.

In addition, workers can exert greater control over their environment, with workers being able to control a range of environmental factors, such as indoor environmental quality factors, which include lighting, temperature, air quality, noise, ergonomics, and humidity. These not only affect physical health through musculoskeletal effects but can also improve worker satisfaction through improved worker comfort.

Conclusion

Office work is associated with a multitude of effects on health. While there are some benefits of office work, studies have demonstrated the health negatives associated with this modality. These effects can be ameliorated by implementing laws, regulations, and policies that ban compulsory overtime and enforce maximum limits on working hours.

Moreover, the WHO/ILO suggests that bipartite or collective bargaining agreements can enable greater flexibility. In addition, implementing the ever-evolving ergonomic technologies in the workplace i.e., the use of standing desks and ergonomically designed chairs, and computer equipment, can serve as a positive means of ameliorating the health consequences of office work.

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References

  • Daneshmandi H, Choobineh A, Ghaem H, et al. (2017) Adverse Effects of Prolonged Sitting Behavior on the General Health of Office Workers. J Lifestyle Med. doi:10.15280/jlm.2017.7.2.69.
  • Okezue OC, Anamezie TH, Nene JJ, et al. (2020) Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders among Office Workers in Higher Education Institutions: A Cross-Sectional Study. Ethiop J Health Sci. doi:10.4314/ejhs.v30i5.10.
  • World Heath Organisation. Long working hours increasing deaths from heart disease and stroke: WHO, ILO. Available at: https://www.who.int/news/item/17-05-2021-long-working-hours-increasing-deaths-from-heart-disease-and-stroke-who-ilo. Accessed December 2021.

Further Reading

  • All Obesity Content
  • What is Obesity?
  • Causes of Obesity and Overweight
  • Obesity, What Can be Done?
  • What is Body Mass Index (BMI)?
More…

Last Updated: Dec 30, 2022

Written by

Hidaya Aliouche

Hidaya is a science communications enthusiast who has recently graduated and is embarking on a career in the science and medical copywriting. She has a B.Sc. in Biochemistry from The University of Manchester. She is passionate about writing and is particularly interested in microbiology, immunology, and biochemistry.

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