When you were planning your career trajectory, unless you considered expressly dangerous paths—logging, firefighting, roofing, steel work, fishing, etc.—you probably didn’t think for a single second about your physical health or safety. That’s because the vast majority of modern jobs are relatively, objectively safe. Indeed, you very likely won’t be put in the line of fire or any other life-threatening situation when you go to work each day.
However, the fact that your job is considered “safe” doesn’t mean it won’t affect your long-term health. In fact, some of the safest, most sedentary jobs are the ones experts are finding cause the most harm over time. And here’s a sobering statistic for you: Nearly 33 percent of all worker injury and illness cases are associated with musculoskeletal disorders, including disorders affecting the back, spine, neck, hips, and knees. While these disorders can certainly occur in high-risk fields, they are just as common among desk workers.
Here are some of the most common career paths that can cause long-term health issues.
1. Anything That Involves Sitting at a Desk All Day – The fact of the matter is that, by sitting at a desk all day, you’re at a higher risk of developing back and spine issues, carpal tunnel syndrome, obesity, poor posture, muscle atrophy, and issues related to on-the-job stress. However, there are some things you can do to prevent long-term health issues associated with a sedentary lifestyle, such as creating an ergonomic workspace that puts less strain on the back and spine. Try using low-level laser therapy for back pain if you suffer from pain from slouching all day. Some common career paths impacted by these issues include:
- Administrative workers, clerks, receptionists, and secretaries
- Executive assistants
- School administrators
- Account managers and office managers
- Writers, designers, and visual artists
- Accountants, auditors, and bookkeepers
- Attorneys and legal aides
- Professional drivers
- Software developers, engineers, and analysts
- Dispatchers and customer service workers
- Bill and account collectors
- Data entry workers
2. Anything That Involves Standing All Day – We know that sitting all day is bad for our health, but what about standing? Yep, long days on your feet are not the best for your health, either. Medical professionals, food service professionals, retail workers and any other professionals who are on their feet all day have a higher risk of experiencing long-term musculoskeletal disorders.
In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those who work on their feet all day—nurses, stock clerks, janitors, and maintenance workers—are at a high risk of developing back pain. Specifically, these groups experience a high rate of sprains, strains, tears, and hernias. For workers in these fields, it’s important to take routine breaks and to make sure you have supportive shoes:
- Doctors, nurses, and medical aides
- Stock clerks
- Cleaners, janitors, and maintenance workers
- Retail workers and cashiers
- Waiters, cooks, bartenders, hostesses, and restaurant managers
- Hotel receptionists
- Factory and warehouse workers
- Welders, cutters, and fitters
3. Anything That Leads to Constant, Prolonged Stress – Let us not forget that there’s more to staying healthy on the job than just physical well-being. Your mental health—namely, your average daily stress level—can deeply impact your physical health and vice-versa. Those professionals who experience constant stress have a higher likelihood of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Although some jobs are inherently more stressful than others, virtually any job can become stressful given the right set of circumstances. However, some of the most stressed professionals tend to be the ones that are under the most pressure, such as surgeons, paramedics, anesthesiologists, police officers, social workers, mental health therapists, and financial analysts.
4. Anything Involving Repetitive or Athletic Activity – Of course, professionals who must engage in repetitive physical activity each day are at a high risk for developing lifelong injuries and health issues that worsen with age. Some examples include professional athletes, as well as factory workers, professional movers, butchers, cooks, carpenters, roofers, welders, and other skilled laborers who must engage in repetitive physical activity each day. Those who work in any fixed or awkward positions or who must routinely use excessive force are at risk of developing a long-term injury, such as a tennis elbow.
Balance Is Key
So, now that we know which career trajectories are not great for long-term health, which are the safest? The truth is that all careers carry some inherent risk, whether they seem to be dangerous or not. Changing the way you do your job or punctuating it throughout the day with breaks for rest or activity may be exactly what you need to make your job have less of a negative effect on your physical and mental health.
The best thing you can do for your body is to strike a good balance between sitting, standing, and moving throughout the day. Some professionals that routinely sit and stand throughout the day include teachers, school administrators, seamstresses and tailors, salespeople, social service workers, librarians, construction managers, and health managers.
If you work at a desk all day, it can help to invest in a sit-stand desk and spend part of your day sitting and part of it standing. You will also want to take frequent breaks to move (such as a short walk at lunch) and stretch. By the same token, professionals who stand all day need to make sure they give their overworked muscles and bones the occasional break to ensure that they don’t become strained or overworked. As with anything in life, balance is key!