Software Developers Have Health Risks

Here is how you can minimize them

I have been working as a Software Developer for the past four years. Just like any other job, our job too, can get difficult. Our jobs involve a lot of problem solving and thinking. Deadlines are always right around the corner and requirements are always changing. Furthermore, there are so many meetings that there is little time to do what we actually signed up for i.e write code.

However, Software Developers have bigger problems than these — and a lot of us are not even aware that these problems exist. Moreover, these problems pose risks to our physical and mental well being.

I recently had a surgery just because I sat too much during the 2020 lockdown. This led me to become a lot more aware about how my work affects my health. So, I have been taking measures to minimize any further risk. Here we will take a look at what these risks are and how we can go about minimizing them.

The Risks

Software Developers do a lot of sitting and staring at the screen. One of the problems seen in people who sit for too long is back pain [Source]. This is because it is difficult to maintain proper posture while sitting for long periods of time. It is so easy to ignore these things and carry on. I personally have had moments where I just pushed on despite of the pain because I needed to get work done.

Sitting all day also means that there is minimal movement. Studies have shown that physical inactivity increases risk of heart disease [Source]. This is a big problem right now because a lot of us are working from home which gives us even less reasons to get off our seats. During the 2020 lock down, there were moments where I’ve sat all day without getting up even once.

Our jobs also involve a lot of typing and mouse moving. Both these activities put strain on the wrists and can lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This causes pain, tingling and numbness in the hands. These symptoms are a nightmare for any Software Developer. How would we work if our hands refused to move without pain?

As Software Developers, we are also prone to some mental risks. I am sure that a lot of us have worked overtime or on weekends because of deadlines. Studies have shown that deadline pressure can be extremely stressful [Source] which can also manifest into physical symptoms [Source]. I can say with confidence that I have definitely experienced anxiety and insomnia during deadlines.

We stay up late into the night staring at our screens whether it be because of deadlines or because we work odd hours. Working in front of a screen for long hours can result in insomnia [Source]. Furthermore, a small study has found that Software Developers might in fact be prone to developing insomnia [Source]. I surely have had instances where I could not sleep all night or fell asleep very late on the days that I worked overtime.

Researchers have even added a new twist on an already existing condition called Deep Vein Thrombosis by coining the term “eThrombosis”. eThrombosis is used to describe Deep Vein Thrombosis in people who sit in front of computers for a long time[Source]. Thankfully, I have not experienced any symptoms related to this.

I am sure that there are even more direct or indirect risks that we are prone to as Software Developers. For example: I mentioned earlier that I had a surgery because of prolonged sitting. I had never imagined that something like this could even happen. However, I think that being aware of the common problems and taking preventive measures is a good start.

The Preventive Measures

Most of the problems that we discussed are due to inactivity. So, how can we get started with living more active lives as Software Developers? When I asked myself this question, my answer was not just “join the gym”. In fact, I used to work out regularly when I had my surgery. This is because working out does not eliminate the fact that I have to sit all day to do my job.

Every profession has it’s own associated physical and mental risks. The proper way to deal with this is making adjustments in the way that we work. Before anything else, if you have a habit of working from bed, then please get a desk and a chair.

A logical first step is to make sure that you are sitting properly. Your lower back should be supported, your feet should be flat on the floor, your wrists and forearms should be level with the floor and your screen should be at eye level.

My desk is a little high for my feet to reach the floor, so I have placed a footrest on the floor and it works wonders. I have also placed by mouse a bit closer so that my arms are level to the floor. I recommend that you check out the following link on how to properly position yourself on your desk.

Sitting properly is a good start but the fact is that you are still sitting a lot. Thus, the next step is to take some time off from sitting. In fact, taking breaks from sitting has been shown to be helpful [Source] [Source]. You could get a standing desk, an adjustable desk or an adjustable monitor and alternate between sitting and standing.

I personally have a timer which goes off every hour and notifies me to take a break from sitting. There is even a study that shows that this kind of “intervention” increases one’s chances of taking breaks [Source].

If you don’t like working while standing then you can take mini breaks every hour. You can use this time to walk around and do some basic stretches to relax your muscles. This is also a good way to give your brain a break from all the thinking and problem solving.

I normally walk around, do some basic stretches and drink some water. Occasionally, if I am not too burdened with work, I will also sneak in some time to go outside for a bit and breathe in some fresh air. Here are some stretches to get you started including some that you can even do while sitting on your desk.

Let’s be honest, most of us Software Developers live a Sedentary lifestyle. So, we should always take as many opportunities as we can to increase physical activity. This includes things as simple as using our breaks to do physical activity instead of watching videos to walking or cycling instead of driving whenever possible.

One of my coworkers likes to go for a walk and find a place to eat during lunch hours. This is obviously way better and more active than ordering in and eating the same thing while sitting at your desk.

Sedentary lifestyle is also linked to bad mental health [Source]. Thus, doing cardiovascular exercises or strength training in order to remain active is a very good idea. According to WHO, it is recommended to get a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular activity each week and some muscle activity at least 2 days per week [Source].

This equates to about three 30 to 45 minute sessions per week which I think is doable for most people. You don’t even have to join the gym because there are plenty of great videos on YouTube to get you started without any equipment at all! I personally love Body Project’s videos as a great starting point for people who are new to working out and exercise. In fact, I started working out by following along with their videos.

Another feasible thing to do is to opt for activities that require physical activities during the weekends. This can be anything from going on walks to playing some form of sports or going for hikes. This does not mean that you have to give up gaming or your personal projects. You just need to make time for some form of physical activity.

I personally try to walk whenever and wherever I can and I workout at least 4 times a week. This has helped tremendously to improve my overall mood throughout the day and has even made me more attentive and energetic while working. I have lost more than 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) since I started working out and have never felt better physically and mentally.

Takeaways

The lifestyle of a typical Software Developer has some physical and mental health risks. This is mainly due to the Sedentary lifestyle that comes with it. Thus, we should try to remain active throughout the day and take frequent breaks from sitting. It is also important to make sure that we are sitting properly. Change does not come in a day so we should start small and build ourselves up to an active lifestyle.

These are just some measures that I take myself in order to reduce my risks of developing a health condition given my lifestyle. It has helped me out personally and I hope that some of this information was useful to you. With that being said, I think that all these might also apply to people who primarily work from their desk.

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