Yoga balls and standing desks may have become a stereotype of the hipster office space, but there is a legitimate reason for this alteration in traditional office paraphernalia: sitting is bad for you, and photographers should take heed before their health begins to deteriorate. Aside from the musculoskeletal dangers of spending too long sitting at the computer, like neck strain and back problems, other parts of the body may be suffering in silence, such as the heart and pancreas.
The business of photography is exactly that: a business. When all is said and done, photographers spend more time at the computer than they do taking photographs. Answering emails, making calls, scheduling shoots, typing up invoices, designing advertisements, editing photographs, tweaking SEO, and writing blog posts could comprise as much as 75 percent of a photographer’s billable hours. This means photographer bums spend a lot of time in chairs. Too much time, according to scientific studies.
Multiple studies, such as this article published in Diabetelogica, have concluded that spending too long sitting still doesn’t just put people at risk of carrying around a few extra pounds or developing chair-butt, sitting uninterrupted for extended periods actually puts people at greater risk for suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and a slew of other health problems.
Sitting means sedentary muscles, and blood doesn’t flow as well in muscles that aren’t active. This lack of movement decreases the amount of high-density lipoproteins in the blood, which can lead to a build-up of fatty acids and affect the heart. Idle muscles don’t respond well to insulin, so prolonged periods of inactivity can decrease the body’s ability to respond to insulin, increasing the risk of diabetes.
It’s not that you can never take a load off or give your feet a rest, but the consensus across multiple peer-reviewed scientific studies is clear: being sedentary — which includes sitting— too often for too long, is bad for you.
Fourteen photographers were questioned for this article, and the average amount of time spent sitting in front of a computer solely for work was 10 hours per day. When that average number is added to other time spent sitting such as commuting, watching TV, and eating, it's clear that photographers spend a staggering amount of time sedentary per day.
Photographers might try to make up for all this sitting by hitting the gym for an hour, but that can be a difficult requirement for sole proprietors who must balance their day between responsibilities at home and work. When a work day can be 12 to 16 hours long and extend into home life, adding a rigorous workout routine to the schedule can seem overwhelming. Worse still, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concludes that the dangers of being sedentary — which includes death from all causes — are not mitigated merely with the addition of exercise. The only thing that can affect the negative consequences of a sedentary lifestyle is to stop being sedentary.
This may not be as easy as it seems when photographers are relying on their businesses to put food on the table, so what can be done to protect the health of photographers and other creative professionals?
Stand Up and Move Every Chance You Get
If you can do a task standing and moving, do. Phone calls can be made while walking. Meetings can be taken at a standing table. If you can afford it, a standing desk converter is a great option that will let you move between sitting and standing as needed. A standing desk is not a solution in itself, however, just like taking a seat isn't the sole culprit. Standing forces muscles to be more active by doing things like maintaining balance and shifting weight, and standing also introduces the ability to move more freely, which increases circulation and muscle tone.
Check Your Posture
Poor posture damages the relationship between muscle and bone, it puts stress on tendons and ligaments, and can leave photographers with chronic neck and back pain. To make sure your sitting posture is right, check these things:
- Sit against the backrest with a strait back.
- Ears aligned with shoulders.
- Relaxed shoulders.
- Knees and elbows bent at 90 degrees.
- Feet flat on the floor.
- Screen positioned so that the chin is level with the floor.
If you notice yourself starting to slouch, or your head leaning too far toward the screen or tilted too far up or down, take a second to fix your posture and try to stay mindful as you work. Set a timer if it helps.
Take Breaks to Move and Stretch Every 30 Minutes
The hip flexor muscles are prone to tighten during prolonged sitting, as are the neck and back. Put a timer on your phone if you have to, but break up that stationary time with 5 to 10 minutes of brisk walking, stretching, or a quick aerobic exercise, like jumping jacks. This reintroduces HDLs (the good cholesterol) into the bloodstream, which helps protect the heart.
Snack Less in Your Chair
Your body responds to a decrease in activity by burning fewer calories. Snacking in your chair during the day may mean adding calories your body won’t have time to burn. Excess calories equal body fat, and increased body fat leads to additional health problems.
Invest in Exercise as Much as You Invest in Your Business
An hour of exercise a day seems like a tall order when you’re a freelancer, but having a booming business won't do you much good if your health is in the toilet. Exercise has immediate benefits for photographers, such as increased mental acuity and mood-boosting endorphins that can improve the photographer-client relationship, but even more important is the evidence studies have found that show that people who exercise daily also tend to improve in other health habits. Being sedentary doesn’t encourage healthy habits. If you can’t get around spending a lot of time in a chair, then a healthy lifestyle is the best possible defense.
Every profession presents its own risks but, as the saying goes, knowledge is power. Knowing the risks of spending too much time sedentary, it's now up to each individual photographer to look at their work schedule and discover where and how they can implement reasonable countermeasures, such as the ones outlined in this article, to protect their health. The dangers of sitting too much for too long are many, but so are the options creative professionals have to combat them. Taking breaks often, keeping physically active during work hours, altering workspaces to make movement more practical, and keeping to a healthy diet are just a few things photographers can do that mitigate the negative effects of sedentary work to remain healthy for their entire careers.