photo credit: jdnx on flickr
Why does this matter to you?
A lot of self-employed professionals suffer from slow-building and destructive health issues as they finance their lives from the comfort (or lack of, as we’ll soon get to) of their desks. This article is designed to bring to light some of the health-related downsides to being an at-home, self-employed workhorse. This article will explain what sort of problems we may experience as well as potential ways to fix/correct them.
Be aware that I am no expert and can only offer this up as amateur advice—though it seems, through talking with others and extensive research for the sake of keeping myself healthy, the following “tips” are ones that are pretty good bets.
Sitting at a chair all day isn’t exactly promoting good health. Many a freelancer spends the majority of his day updating Facebook and Twitter; working on their client-work; emailing said clients; creating/editing documents and fine-tuning their iTunes music selection.
These are all great fun (especially that last one) but they all have a common downside: you not moving from that chair of yours. While we’re being honest, just the fact that you’re reading this article is fueling the problem that this segment is here to address (oops!).
Obesity and being overweight.
Fighting the Problem
What can you do? Well, first off, lower your calorie intake. Sitting at a chair all day keeps your metabolism running slow and thus you don’t need as much juice fueling your body. Limit snacking while keeping your meals low-calorie and you won’t find so many fat stores popping up from all those unused calories you’ve poured into your body. One way to keep the calories down: devote one meal of the day to strictly vegetables and beans. Because these food choices are less likely to be fried and are (as a general rule) low in calories, you should be on the safe side.
Another way to fight the dreaded weight gain is (yep, you’ve heard it before) to exercise. Exercising (mainly cardio) for half an hour will keep your metabolism running higher than usual for up to around 24 hours. Because of this, your body will burn more calories throughout the day. Much more than it would if you didn’t do any exercise at all. If you have time, weight training, especially larger muscle groups (id est, chest and legs), is also a great way to keep your heart rate up and give your body a more uniform workout.
So, with all that considered, it’s important to keep an eye on your weight and the amount of energy you’re putting into your body in the form of food.
Weight gain is a tough thing to combat, especially as we get older. To make things worse, (and maybe despite what you’d expect) being overweight has actually been linked to the development of another health issue for us computer-bound self-employed and it’s called:
Carpal Tunnel is a nerve condition. Repetitive hand movement, over time, can lead to the development of this problem. Not many people understand the condition so listen up!
There’s a nerve that runs through the wrist and into the hand. It controls feeling, movement and dexterity in the first three fingers on the thumb-side of your hand (the thumb, the index and the middle fingers). This nerve enters into the hand through a “tunnel” (who’da thought?). Through repetitive movement, this nerve (or the muscles/tendons around it) can swell, tightening it’s free space within the “tunnel” and putting a pinch on itself. Therein, pain, numbness, weakness and a tingling sensation. If left unchecked, carpal tunnel can be painful and result in loss of strength and coordination in your hand.
As you age, the risk of developing carpal tunnel increases. Women are more susceptible than men but the odds of getting it are high enough that both sexes should be equally conscious of the risk.
Fighting the Problem
Avoiding carpal tunnel is relatively simple but it’s important to start preventative measures as soon as possible. Basically, you should have started yesterday.
If you’re typing a lot, make sure your keyboard is low and you’re not typing with wrists raised up and arched over. For this purpose, it’s nice to have a desk with a slide-out keyboard shelf. It also may be a good idea to invest in wrist braces, specifically if you’re typing for a long time (for you writers out there). Some other options include a mouse pad without a wrist rest and one of those funny looking split, ergonomic keyboards (you think they’ll ever have those for laptops?).
Do you have carpal tunnel?
Here’s a test for you. Bend your hand all the way down (moving your palm towards your forearm) and hold that for sixty seconds. If you feel numbness, tingling or weakness, you may have (or be developing) carpal tunnel.
This is a tough one. There’s a load of information out there about how to avoid back pain. Some people think you need an ergonomic chair. Others will preach that it’s all about core strength and getting enough exercise. While both of these will add comfort to your workday and improve your overall health, others believe that the real problem exists in the lack of moving our bodies.
The body is not designed to be stagnant.
It wasn’t until the era of the computer that human beings were so inclined to work in a seated position. Look back at our roots and it’s easy to see that until recent technological advances were made, not nearly as much “sitting around” was being done. Try getting a job without computer skills and you’ll see exactly what I mean—I take that back. Stick to self-employment. :)
To further support this argument, it’s of consequence to consider the common problem of those paralyzed or in a coma: bedsores.
If you’ve seen the Clint Eastwood movie Million Dollar Baby you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. The fact that you can develop a commonly-fatal condition just by staying stationary for an extended period of time is enough to convince us that sitting at the computer all day is probably not so good for us.
Fighting the Problem
Standing up and moving around for a minute or two every half hour is a great way to combat this. Even better, work while standing. I know that last one sounds preposterous but many people are finding the value in working while standing: specifically in staying focused and clear-minded through the workday.
With this last method, it might be beneficial to have a stool available as well for times when your legs get tired—especially that first week or so when you’re still getting used to your new work style.
To Sum It All Up
Every job/career comes with its share of risk. As self-employed individuals it’s our responsibility to make sure that we place as much importance in knowing the health risks we face as we do in our clients and our business practices. Let’s take care of ourselves now so that others won’t have to work so hard to take care of us later.
Leave a comment below letting us know if you’ve had any health problems related to deskwork and how did you go about fixing/levying it? Everyone’s experiences are different and for the sake of the community, it can’t hurt to have new options in the event that a condition does arise.