Danger At The Desk

The role of the PA and secretary is becoming more dangerous by the hour. As if the thought of repetitive strain injury wasn’t enough, you now have to contend with the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). And, if you don’t take time away from your desk to move around and stretch your limbs, you could be double the risk of a blood clot!

By Jane Olsen

Working at a desk for long periods has been associated with a two-fold increased risk of developing a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE).

Furthermore, this New Zealand study, just published in the latest issue of Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine found that each additional hour spent sitting at a desk, without getting up or excising the legs, increased the likelihood of blood clots by 20% and may present even more of a risk than travelling on long-haul flights.

According to Prof. Richard Beasley, who conducted the study, it’s a largely unrecognised problem. Although the risk of getting a blood clot is small, there are large numbers of adults spending long periods at their desks and young, healthy people are at risk of dying from something that is largely preventable.

DVT is a clotting of the blood within the legs, and is potentially fatal. Once formed, the clots can travel to the heart or brain, blocking essential blood flow and resulting in serious injury or death. The increased risk is mainly caused by the lack of movement in the legs.

Rob Woollen corporate wellness manager at Right Way - a company providing health and fitness services and advise to organisations of all sizes - explains:

“Blood is pumped out by our powerful heart muscle and finds its way to the extremities of the body. However its return journey is not powered by the heart. It relies instead on the squeezing action of muscles contracting and relaxing and a system of one-way valves”.

Sitting still, compounded by increased pressure on the legs, does not provide this much-needed help for the blood to return to the heart.

It is estimated that about one in 2,000 people develop DVT each year in Britain. Hospital patients who have recently had surgery are at greatest risk and pregnancy and obesity also increases the risk.

The advise to PAs and secretaries who commonly sit at their computer for most of the day is to take regular breaks away from their desks to walk around. It was also suggested that office workers do the same leg and foot exercises, such as flexing the ankles, as recommended during long-haul flights.

“Fortunately it is easy to help your body to keep things moving well” commented Woollen and Right Way has produced 6 top tips especially for DeskDemon users to help keep the blood pumping!

  1. Get up! (at least once an hour) No matter how busy you are, you can always find a couple of minutes to stand up and walk around. This really will make all the difference. Not only that, but it will give you a much-needed chance to collect your thoughts, and you will actually find yourself functioning better.
  2. Go smoke free. It seems that smokers are always getting told about the risks, but smoking increases the clotting potential of the blood to a high degree. If you have to smoke – do it outside work hours.
  3. Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water will help your body to work with you to keep the blood flowing.
  4. Eat Well. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables contain high levels of anti-oxidants. These in turn can fight damage to the blood vessel walls which increases likelihood of DVT and other vascular conditions. Reducing trans-fats (often called hydrogenated) and saturated fats can do likewise.
  5. Follow the Right Way Desk-ercise guide below. If you do have to sit for protracted periods of time, make sure you move stretch and shake yourself as detailed below.

Desk-ercise guide:
all of these exercises can be performed easily without changing your seating position too much. Repeat each exercise 20 times every hour or so.

  1. Ankles
    Simply point your foot as far away from you as you can, and then move them back towards you, getting them as close to the shins as you can.
  2. Heel-toes
    Starting with your feet together (you may need to just move out a little from the desk) lift your toes off the floor as high as you can keeping the heels in contact with the floor. Now lift your knees up as you point your toes down and put them in place of your heels.
  3. Slalom
    Start with both feet together to the right of you, with heels down and toes high. Now raise both feet off the floor and replace them on your left hand side with the toes on the floor and the heels high. Repeat 10 times each side.
  4. Mini-stepper
    Extend one leg on the floor in front of you and bring the other leg as close to you as you can. Lifting both feet off the floor, swap over the feet from front to back.
  5. Foot-clap
    Starting with your feet wide apart, soles facing the floor, bring them gently together in the middle with the soles touching (as if “clapping” your feet).

Before beginning any exercise session, loosen up the joints by gently wiggling the feet, and shaking the legs.

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