If you are reading this post, then most probably you are on your way to, in or coming back from office. The last 10 years have seen a significant change in the work culture in India – people’s expectations from life have risen. The middle classes no longer wants self-sufficiency, but have ambitions of ‘making it big that they are working towards achieving. Most of us do not want to waste time and end up taking calls and doing work, even as we commute to office everyday.
This fast paced life is putting a strain on our health and in many cases the damage is irreversible. The 30-40 age group in India today is most susceptible to life threatening diseases such as diabetes, heart attack and hypertension. A study published in the British medical Journal or The BMJ as they are referred to today, indicates the high risk of coronary artery disease in urban Indian population. Almost 21% of the subjects studied had hypertension, 6% were predisposed to cardiac problems and almost 16 % had diabetes (6 % were incidentally diagnosed during the study). The study covered 20 cities in India across 14 states and there were more than 10,000 men and around 1500 women as part of the study.
“But what can be done about it?” I asked my doctor post my annual health check-up recently. While I wasn’t diagnosed for any serious condition yet, the nurse had told me it was only a matter of time before my cholesterol levels would shoot up and arteries would clog making me susceptible to a heart attack. My doctor suggested some simple life saving tips that I tried and found useful. I am sharing the same below for everyone’s benefit.
- Long commute time. Most of us in urban India today do not have the luxury of walking to office, since offices tend to come up in far flung areas. My own commute is about an hour one way to my office. This is quite a long time to be sitting in one posture (whether in a car or a bus or a two wheeler), resulting in unnatural strain on the joints. Doing this day after day can, over time, result in difficulties in walking and knee pain.
The solution– Try and work from home at least 2 days in a week, if your office has a policy. If not, then try and walk as much as you can within the office itself – take the stairs to climb to your floor; walk to the cafeteria or water cooler to refill your water bottle; take a short walk post lunch; avoid talking on the phone or via instant messenger to colleagues who are in the same office building, instead set up time to meet them physically. Over time, due to work pressures, if you are unable to walk within office time, a longer term solution would be to either relocate closer to the office or pick up a job that is located closer to your home.
- Prolonged computer use – Many of us are in relatively sedentary desk jobs that involve working for long hours on the computer. Besides, eye related disorders, this can also result in pain in the wrists, elbows, shoulders and head.
The solution – Set realistic expectations at the workplace. While most offices expect you to work at least 8 hours a day, this time need not be spent entirely in front of a computer. Intersperse meetings every one hour or so to break the monotony of working on a computer. Take a short break of 10-15 minutes for every 1 hour that you work in front of the computer. This not only refreshes your mind, but helps you come back to the task at hand with increased vigor. Incidentally, in the early industrial era, factory workers had a break of 10 minutes every couple of hours to ensure that they took a break from the monotonous work they were doing and to also ensure that the muscles did not get stiff repeating the same movements. The break served as a refresher for both the mind and body, at times, saving accidents from happening at the workplace.
- Air conditioning in the office – Most office buildings in India are unfortunately being built in a manner that do not have windows or where windows cannot be opened for fear of creating points by which the air conditioning can escape the building, resulting in greater power consumption to keep the overall building cool. Also, in a bid to keep servers and computers safe from overheating, several offices tend to keep the temperatures at 18 or 19 degrees, when the temperature outside is at least 6-10 degrees higher, depending on the city. This can create imbalances in how your body naturally regulates temperature. (Having a shawl or blazer on to protect yourself from the cold AC winds is not a solution). Cold, cough, sore throat and burning sensation in the eyes and nose are common ailments today and it is not surprising that every couple of months an entire bay of people on a floor falls prey to this, resulting in them taking sick leaves and overall reduced productivity.
The solution – Ask the office administrator to increase the AC temperature to 24 degrees so that it is bearable for most people. You may also want to opt for formal wear in natural fabrics such as a linen blazer or a cotton jacket that can regulate heat better and help your skin breathe naturally. Incidentally, Japan banned blazers and ties for formal meetings a decade ago due to a similar problem faced by its workforce. Keep your system cool by opting to drink lots of water, coconut water, butter milk or lime juice in the summers. This way, your reliance on AC to cool your body is less.
What do you think of these measures to reduce stress and improve health at the workplace? Are there other work place hazards that we need to cover? Do tweet your recommendations to me on twitter @drvikram.
(The article was also published in the April issue of Dentacare and can be assessed at this link)