Health Hazard Of Being An IT Professional
Ok, so you are an IT professional. Let’s have a quiz. How many of the below terms are you familiar with?
- Computer vision syndrome
- Rotator cuff disease
- Muscle atrophy
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Wrist tendonitis
- Tenosynovitis (also known as Dequervian’s tendonitis)
- Ulnar nerve entrapment
- Peripheral vascular disease
How is your score? If you don’t even know the devil, how will you fight with him?
I have worked in the IT industry for 15+ years and for the larger part of it, I wasn’t familiar with these terms either. Working for 10+ hours sitting in front of the computer was not unusual and adding the travel time to the office, most of the waking hour goes into sedentary sitting. Result? Digestion problems, red eyes, weight gain, anxiety, sleep disorder and countless other symptoms shouting in my face but I was not ready to listen.
Most people wait for a disaster to happen before they wake up and live a healthier lifestyle, provided they get a second chance. For me, it was an incident which I could have easily ignored. I was sitting in my home with a stiff neck (which I was accustomed to by then as it had been a chronic problem for me for over 5 years) when a friend visited me for some work (just started my entrepreneurial journey with him a few months back along with my full-time job). He casually asked me if I ever had Bone Mineral Density (BMD) and vitamin D test. Why would I? I was in my early 30s and too young for any ageing-related problem.
Fortunately, I took his advice and was surprised to see the result. Vitamin D was almost non-existent in my blood and calcium in my bones was negative. I started taking calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 supplements and the stiffness never came back. I could not believe that such a simple remedy could solve a chronic problem and I was wondering why the doctors did not suggest such a simple treatment instead of prescribing Ibuprofen. That’s how my journey started in the health industry and over the years we can help hundreds of IT professionals like me to live a better life by making the right lifestyle changes.
I have organized the article in Q&A form and these are the questions I encounter most of the time. I have tried to give practical answers that can be applied immediately for maximum health benefits.
What is meant by a sedentary lifestyle?
According to Wikipedia, ‘A sedentary lifestyle is a type of lifestyle involving little or no physical activity. A person living a sedentary lifestyle is often sitting or lying down while engaged in an activity like reading, socializing, watching television, playing video games, or using a mobile phone/computer for much of the day.’
So what is the problem with that?
Sitting for a long period (more than 45 min) causes various health challenges which include low energy, obesity, weakening of working muscles, diabetes, blood pressure (both high and low) and depression.
Please give me a practical solution!
Our body is made to walk 12 km in a day without getting tired, surprised? Instead of measuring the time we are active (which is difficult to calculate), it may be better to calculate the miles and number of steps you are walking. The thumb rule is that if you can walk 10,000 steps in a day then you are doing a good job. A decent health band is probably the best investment you can do to monitor your progress.
Let’s say you go to the gym for 1 hour but walk less than 6000 steps in a day, then even the gym may not help in improving your health much. So first thing first, start by tracking how many steps you are currently walking for the next few days. Let’s say you are walking 4000 steps on an average then jumping to 10000 steps is not a bit of practical advice. The next day walk 5000 steps and continue it for 3 to 4 days. Keep increasing 1000 steps every few days until you hit 10,000 in a month. Some hacks to help you:
- If you drive to the office, park your car the farthest from the lift.
- Take the stairs to your floor. If your office is on the 10th floor, take the stairs to the 4th floor and then use the lift.
- If you are using the bus, catch the bus at the next stop and not the one nearest to your home. Get down one stop before your regular office stop.
- Walk and talk (over the phone and in person).
- Don’t keep water at your desk. Walk to the dispenser every time you are thirsty (this may have a side effect of drinking less water so notice your consumption of water)
- Put an alarm that reminds you to stand up every 40 minutes. Walk for a minute and your metabolic rate increases.
- Walk while waiting
- Go in person instead of sending a work email, walk to your colleague’s desk.
- Go for a walk with your spouse or kids (beware, it has a serious side effect of improving your relationship with them)
- Use music while taking a morning and evening walk.
What deficiencies IT professionals are prone to?
It’s not only IT professionals, anyone with poor eating habits is prone to nutritional deficiencies. WHO recommends 5-10 servings of fresh (italics intended) fruits and vegetables to get the right amount of minerals and vitamins in the diet. Also, the food should not be overcooked and cooked with minimum use of vegetable oil.
A lot of IT professionals stay in PG or rented accommodation and it may be difficult for them to cook nutritious food daily. Generally, they eat out in restaurants or an aunty is providing them with so-called home-cooked food. Even if they are married, people try to eat what is convenient to cook and suits their taste buds rather than selecting according to their nutritional value. We have always delegated the cooking department to our mom and her absence is hurting us big time (the same goes with your wife also. She also has a mom who probably never let her beloved daughter cook food so please pardon her for all she cannot do and thank her for all she can).
Some of the common deficiencies most of us are struggling no matter what we eat:
- Protein: The Indian Market Research Bureau’s 2017 report states that more than 80% of the Indian population is protein deficient. Protein is ubiquitous in our diet so how come people are deficient? The reason is how much is required. Approximately people need 1gm per kg weight. So a 70 kg adult will need approx 70 gms protein. This requirement goes up for kids, pregnant women and lactating mothers. The human body can’t store protein and will excrete any excess so a daily dose of a protein-rich diet is required.
Deficiency Causes: Skin, hair and nail problems. Bigger appetite and increased calorie intake. Reduced immunity and a bigger risk of infection. Weakness and fatigue. Fatty liver. Swelling in abdomen, legs, feet, and hand. Inhibited growth in children. Loss of muscle mass. Increased risk of bone fractures.
Sources: Lean meat, poultry and fish. Eggs, dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese, seeds and nuts, and soy products (one cup of lentils, 1 glass of milk, or 1 cup (200 g) of yoghurt—contain 7-8 grams of protein).
- Vitamin C: One of the water-soluble vitamins that we need daily.
Deficiency Causes: Poor immunity, persistent iron deficiency anaemia, unexplained weight gain, fatigue and poor mood, slow healing wounds, painful or swollen joints, dry or damaged skin, and bleeding gums.
Sources: Guava, Black Currants, Lemon, Orange, Papaya
- Vitamin B12: Another water-soluble vitamin so we need it daily.
Deficiency Causes: Weakness, tiredness, or lightheadedness. Heart palpitations and shortness of breath. Anxiety. Mental problems like depression, memory loss, behavioural changes, pale skin and vision loss.
Sources: Meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products and eggs
- Vitamin D (Sunshine Vitamin): Above 80% population in urban India are Vitamin D deficient and in some places, it is as high as 99%. The most efficient way to get this vitamin is through the sun (only early morning sun when it is orange). Remember our tradition of doing Surya Pranam after an early morning bath. What do you think it was for?
Deficiency Causes: Weakness and feeling sleepy even after a good night’s sleep, drowsiness, getting sick or infected often, hair loss, muscle pain, bone loss, and depression.
Sources: Fatty fish like tuna, mackerel and salmon, beef liver and egg yolks.
- Calcium: If you have Vitamin D deficiency then the capacity of the body is greatly impaired to absorb calcium.
Deficiency Causes: Mild body pain, neck and back pain, general weakness, headache, joint pain, muscle pain, muscle twitching, and irregular heartbeat.
Sources: Dairy products, spinach, okra, soybeans, and some fish like sardines, salmon, perch, and rainbow trout.
I was getting a lot of the above symptoms but I behaved like an ostrich and kept on ignoring them. It’s not that I was careless about my health nobody sat with me and explained the symptoms, their cause and probable solution until my friend pointed me in the right direction. Also, I never learned about the symptoms during my school or college days so I assumed it to be a part of life as everyone around me was struggling with the same problem. Once I started making the necessary changes and added the right supplements to my diet, my health started improving. The result – I have spent zero money on doctor fees or medicine in the last 3 years.
Exercises you can do sitting at your desk
You can do them in a stretch or break them in a three-minute exercise after every 1 hour. These 20-30 minutes can save you a lot of misery and pain in the future.
Where else can I go wrong?
Digital well-being: Disconnect the cable connection, unsubscribe from Netflix and Amazon Prime, and notice the time you spend on YouTube and other streaming media. It is costing you more than time and money, it is costing you your life. Get out of your couch and move your body.
Posture: Read about correct sitting posture, practice it, and buy the right aids to help you sit upright. Do exercise to strengthen your back.
Evening hunger pangs: Ahhh, that samosa in the evening, snicker, pakoda and tea (after all it’s raining outside), so-called oil-free bhelpuri (with extra chutney), lemon tea (this is a strange world – we use real lemon for washing hands in restaurants and artificial lemon flavour in our drinks). When you know that you tend to feel hungry in the evening, how come you get surprised every day? Stop making excuses and prepare for it. Carry an extra lunch box, paneer, roasted peanut or fresh fruits in your bag. A salad with non-fatty dressing can be a good option. Don’t tell yourself that there are no options. I preferred to add protein shake and it worked wonders.
Juices: Do you still think fresh juice is actually fresh? Please go behind the counter and see how they are preparing it. It might give you a burst of energy because of high sugar content but you will end up damaging your health. Always choose wholesome fruits and vegetables over juices as fruits have fibre that helps you regulate sugar in your blood.
Munching: For some people, brunch after breakfast, ‘lunch’ after lunch and ‘dinner’ before actual dinner. Sometimes it’s a good idea to give relief to your stomach. Break the habit of habitual and mindless eating. Keeping an ‘eating journal’ can help you track if you are overeating.
Junk and packaged food: If I have to convince you about stopping them immediately then maybe this article is not for you. Packaged food includes packaged juices also.
Your nasty boss: Read some good people skill book (it actually works) or start giving interviews. If the job is the game that you want to play then better learn the rules of the corporate world.
Some last bit of suggestion?
Full body check-up every year: I cannot recommend anything more highly than a routine body check-up. The earlier you find a developing problem, the better it is.
Pursue a hobby that you have been postponing for ages
Learn about supplements: I meet a lot of people who relate supplements to bodybuilding or equate it to medicine and hence reject them outrightly. Learn about them and understand their importance in covering your nutritional gap.
Join a yoga class or any other physical activity you love doing: Personally, I avoid anything that requires expensive equipment or going to the gym as it is difficult for me to continue for a long time. Yoga has worked best for me. Also, I love to run around and play with my son and that is the part of the day I look forward to.
Hire a health consultant: There was a tradition of having a family doctor a couple of decades back, someone who knows you personally and can notice subtle changes in your health which an ad hoc doctor cannot. This served us very well in the past detecting a developing disease before it becomes fatal. If you are not able to find a doctor to get regular advice then probably a health consultant can fill the gap.