Is Your Computer Killing You?

I know exactly what you’re doing right now. You’re likely sitting in your computer chair, on your couch, or, if you’re being especially lazy, lying in bed and staring at your computer screen. You’ve probably been there for a several minutes, if not an hour or two. You’re even possibly at work, reading LockerGnome while stuck in a cubicle for a few more hours. I’ve spent several years prior to writing for blogs in cubicles and, between 9-5, there’s not a lot to do at work but sit. Unfortunately, while all that sitting and staring at a computer screen may be helping to keep your bank account healthy (or at least out of the red), it may be slowly killing you.

While simply staring at a computer screen is bad for your eyes (especially in the dark), using your computer all day has now been shown to produce other deadly effects — and may be slowly killing you. In a recent study by by Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, published recently in Diabetes Care (a publication of the American Diabetes Association), sitting down for long periods of time without movement can lead to an increased risk of diabetes. As sedentary cubicle dwellers sit at their desks for hours and hours without getting up to go for a walk to get lunch, coffee, or even just wander around the office for a few minutes, they reduce their ability to control their glucose and insulin levels. Overweight office workers and other types of employees that sit for long periods of time (like drivers and call center staff) are even more at risk for deadly diseases caused by using a computer all day.

Is Your Computer Killing You?Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute found that simply spacing out sitting time with frequent activity breaks can easily reduce the risk of getting diabetes from sitting at your desk and using a computer all day without moving. According to Baker’s website, “Repeated spikes in glucose, or blood sugar, are known to contribute to a number of negative health outcomes, including hardening of the arteries and cardiovascular disease. Insulin is important, because it plays a key role in controlling blood sugar levels.” When these sugar levels get out of control, people are at greater risk of contracting diabetes. Diabetes can be caused by too little insulin, resistance to insulin, or both. People with diabetes have high blood sugar because their body cannot move sugar into fat, liver, and muscle cells to be stored for energy.

Your computer can also contribute to other deadly diseases including heart disease. Lead researcher, Associate Professor David Dunstan, says: “When we eat, we get rises in blood glucose. With larger and more frequent rises in blood glucose, we gradually accumulate damage to the walls of our veins and arteries. This increases our susceptibility to heart disease. So, we want to minimise these rises in order to improve our health outcomes.”

However, he says that in his study that mimicked the typical office environment with those who worked in cubicles, participants who broke up their day with regular activity breaks “showed up to 30 percent improvement in the body’s response to a meal containing glucose.” This type of activity doesn’t even require a brisk walk down the street for lunch; it can just be light activity, just as wandering around the office or a slightly longer walk to the bathroom. (I’m personally a fan of taking the stairs to the bathroom up or down a floor if you work in a larger office building. Not only is it easy yet good for you to take even just one flight of stairs, but exploring other areas of your building can break up the monotony of your office environment and perhaps introduce you to new people, too.)

Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute also notes that this same research applies to those who work at home. Though telecommuting may seem like it gives employees more freedom to roam around and create their own flexible schedule, the reality for many people who work at home is that they, too, tend to sit in one place for long periods of time. (I often find myself surprised after focusing for hours on a project that the sun has set and the room is suddenly dark.) It’s critical for anyone who uses computers for long periods of time to routinely get up and move to keep their muscles from, as Dunstan says, “sleeping.” He explains: “When we’re up and moving, we’re contracting muscles and it appears that these frequent contractions throughout the day are beneficial for helping to regulate the body’s metabolic processes.” Keeping your metabolism high is a key component of maintaining your overall health; alternatively, a low metabolism can contribute to deadly diseases. For those who work at home, consider taking conference calls while walking around the block or go the gym in the middle of the day. Setting a timer to get up from the computer every 45 minutes (such as on the :45 of every hour) is one of my personal habits and a great routine for those who have control of their own schedule.

If you’re the type who does sit and stare at your computer all day, don’t worry; you don’t need to go out and buy (or make) a standing treadmill desk or commit to a personal trainer to offset the associated dangers of working in front a computer all day, every day. Dunstan’s research ultimately found that simply standing up and moving occasionally throughout the day was beneficial enough to prevent the deadly consequences of using your computer all day otherwise. (However, if you do decide to build that treadmill desk, we’re not stopping you — here at LockerGnome, we personally think it’s a great idea and it’s one option we’ve even considered ourselves.)

How do you cope with sitting at a desk all day? What tricks or tips do you have for other people who constantly use a computer? Share your thoughts in the comments.

CC image of ambulance via ibison4.

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  • Matthew Cheung

    Cool. I did not know that!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1813155844 Antim Evtimov Batchev

    unfortunetly not alot of people know about this and that can affect your health if you sit on a computer for loads of time 

  • jesse garboden

    Yes the computer made me sick.
    It made me not exercise or eat or sleep properly.
    It weekend my immune system so much that I have been sick for the past month.

  • Kyle Polansky

    Ehh, whatever. I also run over 60 miles a week, so I’m not going to worry about a little sitting.

  • Ron_Schenone

    Great article Kelly. Hopefully the word will get out about the ill affects of excessive computer usage. 

  • Ernest Koncaba

    My best friend has been having all kinds of problems for the past 2 months and is spending more and more time at the doctors office and they can’t find anything wrong with him. He spend more time on his computer then i do on mine.

  • http://mikeontv.com MikeonTV

    Since working full time at my computer(s) and realizing I spend 12-14 hours a day in front of my glowing rectangle, I use a stand up desk and I have a rule that I try to no sit for longer than 2 hours every day!

  • Bitemore

    This article could bear a lot of repeating.  Although I am retired, I spend a lot of time on the computer.  And in front of the TV.  With a computer on my lap.  But, I have two computers, one of which is an “all-in-one” sitting on a desk, and it has my main e-mail account, which forces me to leave the sofa on a regular basis to check e-mail.  Thus, I go back and forth all day.  I also have a treadmill and use it 1 -2 hours a day, never less than one, usually two hours… and I have a FitBit (Lockergnome featured it a couple of months ago) – and that lets me know how far I’ve “traveled” each day.  Considering I had a heart valve replaced and another valve repaired a year and a half ago, that I managed somehow to remain in fair shape means I must be doing something right.  My blood pressure is never higher than 118/68… and I never felt better.  And I take VERY seriously the dangers of becoming sedentary.

  • Matthew Brotzman

    At school we’re always sitting at desks(except during passing time), I’m not sure if this is a tip/trick, but I like to do stretching or just moving my feet/arms around every once a while in class or during studyhall where the teacher doesn’t care. At home I do essays,(some) homework, chat with my friends on FB, and do some web design/coding + photoshop tutorials (freetime). Even though I’m still a teen I see that it is important to get as much exercise as you can, for school I walk/jog 1 mile to and from, I sometimes do 2 miles. What I’d like to do if I have a “computer job”, I’d like to have an Ipad/tablet/simliar and take walks while doing my job.

  • Jeff Mayernik

    I make it a point to never sit at the desk for more than 45 minutes without walking at least across the house (Yeah, I’m a telecommuter) and I tend to pace when I talk on the phone, so, that makes it easier to keep moving. I’ve even gone so far as to set the kitchen timer for 45 minutes when I know I’m going to be focused on a project at my desk; that way I have to get up and walk to the other end of the house to shut it off.

  • uritziel

    I’ve been sitting for 8 hours+ on my computer for the past 11 years, I have problems with my knees, were they lock up in the cold and sometimes I fall on my face, I went to physiotherapy (the place were they give you exercises in the hospital for numb muscles etc) and they told me I’ve been sitting wrong and I have to lift weights with my legs to make it stronger and also to cover the tendons on my knee to prevent this “Lock up” from happening again, I listened to them, I’ve been working on my dads farm, and I work out and I sit like a homo-sapien now. Everything is good health wise :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/12jyoti Jyoti Prakash Haldar

    Thanks for sharing

  • http://timpreuss.com/ Tim

    Good post. I’m a little concerned that sitting may not be the cause of diabetes and heart problems, but just another side effect of an individual who doesn’t take care of their body. Correlation is not causation. 

  • Jonathan Wakeman

    I will make sure to take break periodically.

  • Barry Gumm

    Thanks for that info

  • http://bdentzy.com/ Bryan Entzminger

    I try to get up and walk around regularly. It’s not perfect but it works for me.

  • Jin

    Thanks for the video. I’ll take care about regular periodical breaks. Thanks!

  • http://www.redkingdesign.co.uk/ Red King

    I do sports, so health is no issue for me. But I do worry about my posture!

  • Inbalzipora

    i must admit that I have a terrible habbit for sitting and starring at my computer for hours!
    I have epilepsy and because of this habbit of mine my eyes started to turn red and I got huge hedace that when on for quite a while!!