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7 Health Hazards at Your Desk (and How to Avoid Them)

At first glance, spending your day slaving away in a cubicle might not seem too hazardous to your health.

You’re not apprehending perps like a police officer or balancing on scaffolding like a construction worker. You’re just sitting down at a desk, hoping not to get caught checking Facebook for the 10th time in the last 20 minutes.

Don’t get too comfy. There are plenty of ways a desk job can wreak havoc on your health. even created a handy (or disturbing?) chart that shows how working at a desk job can wear your body down.

To prove it to you, we found seven very real dangers to your well-being hiding in your cubicle walls.

1. Distracted eating – Besides annoying your neighbors by constantly crunching on potato chips, eating at your desk can contribute to a host of health problems – especially if you’re eating high-fat fare from the vending machine. Poor eating habits and working a sedentary job can lead to weight gain and potential obesity, which puts you at risk for hypertension, diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, cancer and cardiovascular disease, according to an article on Do we have your attention yet? When you sit down for a meal rather than multitasking at your desk, you’re more likely to pay attention to your body’s cues telling you when you’re full – so there’s less of a chance you’ll overeat. If you plan ahead and pack a healthy lunch and snack, you’ll be less likely to hit that vending machine for an afternoon Snickers break.

2. Crossing your legs – Sitting with your legs crossed all day can lead to lower back pain and the development of spider veins, chiropractic physician Dr. Richard Arrandt told the Ladies Home Journal. However, we do have some good news for those who like habitual leg-crosses: research has shown that sitting this way will not cause varicose veins.

3. Headphone volume – Sure it might be tough to tune out the office din without putting on a pair of headphones and cranking up the volume, but research shows that 80 percent of people listen to music at dangerous levels when there’s background noise. According to an article on, listening to loud, sustained noise can permanantly damage a person’s hearing. Audiologists Brian Fligor and Terri Ives reccommend using noise-blocking headphones and listening to music at a safe level – around 75 decibels (about the sound of a telephone dial tone), when you’re using it for more than two hours a day. According to the article, 85 decibels is the minimum sound level for risk of hearing damage; people can sustain listening to 91 decibels (about the sound of a train whistle from 500 feet away) for two hours a day before suffering hearing loss.

4. Not taking a break – You don’t need us to tell you that work can be stressful and exhausting. And just like your body wouldn’t be able to sustain exercising for eight hours a day straight, your brain needs to rest periodically, too. There’s a physical toll on your body as well; sitting in one position and staring at a screen for hours on end can lead to chronic back pain and eye strain. Harvard Business Review blogger Whitney Johnson writes, “Rest is life and work support. It reinvigorates us so we can get things done. It allows us to subvert our inner workaholic, liberating our innovative self. It also allows us pause to gain perspective, to plumb the meaning of our life.” Now, we’re not saying you’ll find the meaning of life in the 10 minutes you take to refill your water – but you will stretch your legs, get your circulation going and give your brain a chance to recharge.

5. Never cleaning your keyboard/mouse/phone – Not to be gross, but a 2008 study by a computer advocacy group in the U.K. found at least one office keyboard that was dirtier than a toilet seat, according to Another study by the University of Arizona, reported on by CNN, found that desktops contained 21,000 germs per square inch and phones contained 25,000 germs per square inch. By comparison, a toilet seat has just 49 germs per square inch. Those buttons you click on all day could carry anything from staph to E. coli, and during cold and flu season can be a prime place for sharing sickness. Experts recommend wiping down your desk, keyboard, phone and mouse daily to prevent the buildup of germs. Note: yet another reason not to eat at your desk.

6. Improper lighting – According to Boston University’s College of Health and Rehabilitation Services, poor lighting in your office can lead to visual discomfort (including red-eye and light sensitivity); neck, shoulder and forearm discomfort; and headaches. The college also noted that proper lighting – especially from sources of natural light – promotes creativity, improves job performance, and limits eye strain. The college recommends computer users avoid working when there’s glare on their monitors.

7. Sitting improperly – When your HR person talks to you about the best way to sit while working, pay attention. He or she isn’t just trying to be motherly. The right furniture and proper seating can prevent a whole host of repetitive strain injuries including Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and back, neck, shoulder and leg problems. Visit for a thorough list of sitting suggestions and a diagram that shows an ergonomically-friendly workspace.

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