We spend at least half of our waking hours at work, so it is no surprise that our job has a lot to do with our body mass. While you are worrying about making a big impression on your boss, you may be making a bigger impression on your chair.
To start with the extremes, Amish farmers, who avoid using powered machinery, do not have a weight problem. Studies have shown that they stay trim on 5,000-plus calories per day (consisting primarily of meat, potatoes and gravy). That’s a diet we would all be happy to follow, but the 12 to 15 hours of heavy manual labor per day might be a little harder to swallow.
Administrative jobs, with the rise of digital devices and online convenience, have become increasingly sedentary. They are the leading category for weight gain. More than 50 percent of administrative workers gain significant weight. This seems to be a result of sitting down for most of the day and dealing with problems or errands electronically or online instead of in person.
Those sorts of tasks, possibly channeling Marx’s theory of alienation, can produce high levels of frustration and anxiety. Lacking an appropriate outlet for those emotions, many turn to snacking. The snacking choices tend to be a variety of ultra-processed food offerings, composed almost entirely of carbohydrates and salt. These foods will be around long after the human race has moved on. In defense, fresh fruits and vegetables do not remain viable long after being stashed in a desk drawer. Still, the smell of rotten fruit turning into mold might put a damper on your appetite for snacks.
IT workers have the next highest rate of weight gain. They also spend long hours sitting at various computers, but at least they say they enjoy it. Their eating habits do not involve regular, nutritious meal breaks. More often they fuel the fire with something sweet and wash it down with a Red Bull. This creates a blood sugar yo-yo that contributes to weight gain.
Healthcare workers are not immune to the curse of low activity levels and poor food choices. One-third of us gain significant weight. Stress is one factor, and time pressure is another. This is in spite of good nutritional training and daily access to abundant heath information. “Do as I say, not as I do,” is how Mom used to put it.
All is not lost, however; the common thread of low activity can be changed rather quickly. I am standing as I type this. Almost any desk job can be modified using an inexpensive clamp-on stand-up computer station. Banish sitting from the workplace to start combatting a sedentary life. I recently learned that Hemingway did all his work standing at a high shelf in the kitchen with a typewriter on it. While he had other issues, the standing-up-while-working part didn’t hurt him any. Another option? Sit on a large exercise ball instead of a chair to strengthen your core.
Look for opportunities to add a tiny bit of activity to your day. Don’t think of it as exercise, think activity. Park a little farther away, walk across the hall and meet people you normally just email, take the stairs, and walk to lunch. Everything counts. If that is not enough, consider a career change to Amish farming.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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