Select Page

In today’s modern workplace, we get to sit in cushy offices with well-stocked pantries and comfortable working environments. But as skilled knowledge workers in a dynamic economy, the 9-to-5 grind comes with its drawbacks.

Perhaps the biggest and most intriguing drawback is the compromise on one’s health – stress, chronic pain, weight gain and other symptoms from being desk-bound are the consequences we bear.

Here are some sobering statistics to illustrate how work can literally kill us.

  1. One in three people in Asia suffers from burnout.
  2. Chronic pain affects about 20 percent of the adult population globally.
  3. Sitting for more than 8 hours a day is almost as dangerous as a daily smoking habit.

How do we take ownership of our minds and our bodies amid the daily stress of life and work, and find ways to minimise the stress or respond to it in a more healthy, sustainable manner? 

That’s what Leigh Withers, Academy Director of the Strength Clinic Academy, unpacked at Proper Posture and Ergonomics – How it Affects Your Spinal Health, an interactive event held at the Greater Club’s Leadership Development Day on 23 February.

The Strength Clinic Academy offers an integrated approach to support body transformation, through physiotherapy, personal training and customised nutrition. It employs a team of physiotherapists, personal trainers and nutritionists to help “build, maintain and repair your body”.

Stress drives chronic pain

Studies show that about 20 percent of adults around the world suffer from chronic pain, with 10 percent getting newly diagnosed from chronic pain every year. Withers often sees this among his clients, whose common complaints include headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain and even signs of anxiety and depression.

These symptoms are typically a sign that there is a significant problem, and we should start searching for the root cause. “We have to understand that pain is part of the human condition. But it’s a signal and it’s usually a request that we need to change something,” he says.

Stress that has been built-up over time, which eventually becomes chronic stress, is a common cause of chronic pain, says Withers. Hence, it is something we need to understand and manage.

This is especially true in Asian cultures, where corporate employees wear stress like a badge of honour.  “Stress is normal. Some stress can be good – we learn from stress and that’s how we adapt to changes, but stress should not be normalised in any culture,” says Withers.

Withers demonstrated some simple stretches to relief stiffness from prolonged sitting.

You are only as healthy as your spine

The spine is an essential part to our physical and mental state. Apart from stress, much of our chronic pain can be attributed to poor posture, sitting for prolonged periods and the lack of movement.

More than just a backbone that supports our movement, the spine is our nerve centre – containing 31 pairs of nerves branching from the cord, it assists our brain in regulating our functional organs such as our lungs, steadies and controls our movement, and guarantees that our gut keeps working. 

By sitting for prolonged periods, as well as our constant use of devices, our spine doesn’t get to function at its highest level. For instance, slouching at our desk impairs our breathing, which in turn, increases our stress, while staring at our smartphones for hours at a time puts unnecessary pressure on our neck.

“Text neck”, or even the act of sitting for long hours, can cause tightness and aches in our shoulders, neck, and lower back. It also causes tight hips and hamstrings. All of these compromise our mobility, balance and our body’s ability to breathe and move freely.

You are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with

Withers advises business leaders to consider if the  people around them, elevate them or bring you down. He uses the “crab in a bucket” theory as an example, in which your closest network subtracts from your life instead of adding to it. “Be mindful of your environment and check to see if the people that surround you actually bring more stress,” he says.

Breath is life

On top of efficient movement, sufficient sleep and managing stress, rhythmic and deep, diaphragmatic breathing is key to improved physical and mental health. 

Box breathing, for instance, is a simple exercise that we can utilise. It eases your mind into a parasympathetic state, “the rest and digest” state which counterbalances the “fight or flight” syndrome that stress can cause.

Simple ways to improve our physical and mental well-being

Withers briefly touched on how quick stretches and regular exercise can bring tremendous benefits when it comes to managing stress.

Simple exercises, such as a standing hamstring stretch, a hip flexor stretch or a chest opening stretch, can be done within the comfort of your office. These stretches open up tight muscles and ligaments from sitting for too long.

You don’t need a membership to an expensive gym to get some frequent exercise, adds Withers. Going for a walk in nature, or trying to hit 10,000 steps a day, counters the ill effects of work related stress and being desk bound, he says.

The Greater Business Club enables leaders to take charge of their health and perform under pressure. Email us to find out more about our leadership-themed events at