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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

When Work Makes You Sick

Natalya Rostovtseva, account manager for a Moscow agency, worked for three years before she began to notice serious problems.

These problems had nothing to do with the accounts she was managing or with the company in general.

Instead, they were sharp pains in her back, the direct result of spending an average of 10 to 12 hours a day at a computer.

"I was diagnosed with osteoarthrosis, problems with the joints in my lower back," she said.

She also began to experience discomfort from prolonged periods of staring at a computer screen.

"By the end of the workday, I felt like there was sand in my eyes," she said.

Rostovtseva is one of many in the white-collar work community who has suffered health-related problems as a result of sedentary work habits. And her problems are not the worst.

Scientists at the Medical Research Institute in New Zealand confirmed that working at a computer can lead to thrombosis, a disease characterized by the formation of blood clots, especially in the legs.

These clots can eventually come loose and lodge in the brain, heart or lungs, causing chest pains, shortness of breath and even a fatal heart attack.

Also called the "economy-class syndrome," it occurs in airline passengers who do not stretch their legs on long flights.

A study conducted by scientists at the research center found that every third person admitted to the hospital for thromboembolism was an office worker who spent hours in front of a computer.

Richard Beasley, a leading specialist at the institute, said these workers spent an average of eight to 15 hours a day in front of the computer screen, and many of them did not get up from their computers once in a four-hour span.

Dr. Pavel Loginov, an emergency doctor at the European Medical Center in Moscow, pointed out other possible problems.

"Spending hours in front of the computer can lead to deterioration of eyesight and myopia," he said. "Also, sitting in front of the computer can cause back and chest pains."

He added that constant sitting can also lead to weight gain, which can bring with it a host of additional health problems.

As if the myriad of physical problems was not enough, Dr. Mahmoud Zeidan of the American Medical Center pointed out an additional risk.

Alexander Belenky / MT
"Problems can start in the eyes, but can eventually affect the brain and nervous system," he said. "Staring at a computer screen too long can cause stress, sleeplessness and irritability."

Loginov said these problems might even get serious enough to warrant the help of a neurologist.

"Any type of long work hours develops stress and fatigue, which leads to neurosis," he said.

Short of early retirement, doctors had several suggestions for preventing these health problems.

"You should never sit still for more than an hour," Zeidan said. "Be sure to get up, walk around, do minor exercises."

He said office workers should spend no more than a total of six hours a day in front of the computer screen. During this time, he said, they should make sure that they are using correct posture to prevent strain. He added that moisturizing eye drops should be kept on hand to prevent dryness of the eyes.

Loginov suggested taking regular 30-minute breaks from the computer to stretch the legs and rest the eyes.

"Look away from the monitor often," he said. Outside of the office environment, he recommended "regular physical exercise to strengthen back muscles."

Rostovtseva said her back and eye problems had improved as a result of making these small lifestyle changes. Not only does she make sure to take regular breaks from sitting at her desk, but she also makes time to reduce stress outside the office.

"I swim once a week, and also had a series of massages over the course of a year," she said.