While construction workers or forklift operators may face safety concerns at work, people in those roles may be better positioned for better overall health than white-collar workers. Working at a desk job year after year can take a toll on your health in a number of ways. Here are five of them.

  1. Sitting is killing you

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    Sitting all day is detrimental to your health. Being in a seated position reduces circulation, so there’s less blood and oxygen to your essential organs, including your brain. If you’re in a chair all day, muscles can tighten and degenerate.  And even if you exercise, sedentary behavior puts you at risk for disability, and this risk only increases as you age. To enhance your circulation, aim to get up from your desk at least every 30 minutes. Consider other ways to be active during the workday.

  2. To be healthy, we need to consume nutrient-dense whole foods and to take proper breaks for meals. Under pressure to perform and to maximize their time, however, many Americans eat lunch at their desk and multitask. If you work a full-time desk job, it is likely that you are often rushed during your lunch break. But gulping down your sandwich at lunch does not encourage healthy digestion, and, can in severe cases, lead to colon cancer or autoimmune disease. Maybe in the interest of productivity, you run out and grab a fast-food lunch, which is full of empty calories and chemical additives. Perhaps you microwave some of last night’s pizza, and that’s no better since microwaving is harmful to the nutrient quality of the food.  For optimal brain function, take a lunch break away from your desk, and chew each bite at least 20 times. If you can, pack a lunch at home. This will not only ensure that you know what’s in your lunch but will save you money.
  3. Stress is a major factor in inflammation and degenerative disease. It can lead to sleep problems, headaches, lack of motivation or focus, irritability and anger issues. How much are your toxic co-workers or manager adding to your stress level? What about the constant pressure to do more with less, or the unrelenting fear of being caught up in the next round of layoffs?   It’s probably not possible to eliminate all work stress, but it’s a good idea to leave work-related concerns at the office.  Leave your work laptop at the office, and set your phone to to “do not disturb” mode during the evening hours. Talk with your boss about her expectations regarding work emails received after you leave the office.
  4. If you work in a modern building, you may have little access to fresh air. In many buildings, it’s not even possible to open the windows! Often, the air indoors can be more polluted than what’s outdoors! Step outside at least once per day to enjoy a breath of fresh air and reap its health benefits.
  5. Working in an office environment is like spending the entire day in a cave, and human beings didn’t evolve in the dark. If you’re inside all day, you’re probably not able to produce enough vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels have been implicated in a variety of health issues, from depression to dental caries to osteoporosis and even breast cancer. And despite what you’ve heard, your body needs to be exposed to those UVB rays, which are blocked by regular window glass. It’s through exposure to UVBs that your body produces vitamin D3.  And spending the entire day can also impact your body’s melatonin production, as many office spaces are poorly lit. In order to optimize melatonin production, which is so critical to our health–and to proper sleep–your body needs exposure to bright, natural light during the day.  Weather permitting, take a break from your office’s fluorescent and LED lighting, and go outdoors for some natural light.

There are certainly plenty of health risks to working at a white-collar job. But with a little perseverance and creativity, you can mitigate those risks and take steps to support your health while you’re still working at that job.  Or consider striking out on your own. There are many benefits to starting your own business, but consider the healthier lifestyle options you can choose when you’re not constrained to a desk at your single employer.  If you work for yourself, you can design your work around your desired lifestyle, rather than having your work dictate your lifestyle.