Is work making you sick? Here’s how to stay healthy at the office
A 2012 survey found that almost two-thirds of Canadians work more than 45 hours a week. That’s a lot of time spent in front of a computer, sitting through meetings, drinking too many cups of coffee, and eating lunch at your desk. When you’re on tight deadlines, it’s easy to forget one important thing: you. How can you can you stay healthy when you’re so busy?
Relax, we’re not trying to make you feel guilty about that neglected gym membership. It only takes a few small adjustments to make sure you’re firing on all cylinders.
Here’s how to stay healthy at the office.
Sit up straight or…
Chances are, you spend a majority of your day in front of a desk. If so, your parents were right: proper posture is essential. Slouching can strain muscles and stress your spine, contributing to back and neck pain. It can also reduce your lung capacity by as much as 30 per cent and has been linked to some forms of postural scoliosis and tension headaches. Sitting up straight, on the other hand, can boost your confidence, reduce stress, and help you be more productive.
To sit properly at your desk, adjust your chair height so that your feet are flat on the floor, with your wrists straight and hands at or below elbow level. Your computer screen should be positioned so that your eyes are aligned with its top edge and it should be at least an arms’ length away. Support your lower back either by adjusting your chair or by using a pillow.
… stand up straight
Of course, if you do sit all day at work, you’re probably aware of recent research stressing the dangers of “sitting disease.” Canadian adults spend three-quarters of their waking hours each day sitting or reclining, increasing their risk of diabetes, obesity, and cardiac and metabolic diseases. In response, standing desks have become popular as an alternative to traditional desks. But while there are benefits associated with a standing desk – better blood sugar control and less back and shoulder pain – you should keep the following in mind if you can make the transition.
Start slow – standing may not sound all that taxing, but when you’ve been accustomed to sitting most of the work day, standing too much too soon will strain your body. Start with just 20 minutes and increase the time you spend standing as your body adjusts. Using a mat to stand on will reduce strain on your knees, hips, and ankles. And just as with a traditional desk, it’s crucial to make sure that your computer screen is positioned an arms’ length away, with your wrists flat and your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
Whether you’re standing or sitting, however, the best way to achieve optimal health benefits while at the office is to walk throughout your workday. Physical activity stimulates blood flow, relaxes your muscles and, probably most importantly, reduces stress. Walking will help you burn about three times more calories as someone seated (or standing), and those brief periods of walking will add up over time.
At least once an hour, take a five- or ten-minute walk around your office. Use every opportunity to step away from your desk. Instead of calling or emailing coworkers, walk over to their desks and deliver the message face to face. Hold 15-minute standing meetings, which have been shown to be shorter and more effective than a traditional hour-long meeting. If you need to have a difficult conversation with a co-worker, try a walking meeting that can help reduce tension and initiate conversation. Take phone calls while standing at your desk.
Opt for the stairs instead of the elevator and take the longer route to your desk. Think about your commute. If you’re taking public transit, get off at a stop that’s further away from your office and walk the rest of the way. If you’re not expected to work through your lunch hour, take a 30-minute walk. Not only will you get exercise, but studies have shown that lunchtime strolls help buoy your mood and increase your focus in the afternoon.
Eat right, drink right
Once again, your parents were right to tell you to eat your fruits and vegetables and drink water. Following a healthy diet makes a difference, but this is sometimes easier said than done in an office full of temptations (birthday cakes and nearby restaurants come to mind). Indulging every now and then isn’t a problem, but more often than not, you’ll want to pack your own lunch and snacks. Midmorning and midafternoon snacks are key to helping you avoid overeating at lunch and dinner. Bringing a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins to work will help make sure that you’ll have whatever you’re craving. And, if you have to work late, the extra food will serve you well.
Take advantage of your water cooler and avoid sodas, juices, and their added calories. Staying hydrated is crucial to your health and wellbeing and drinking water before meals can prevent you from overeating and help improve weight control.
Take a vacation
A TD Bank survey found that while 93 per cent of Canadians think vacations are important to be happy, just 43 per cent report using all their vacation days. While work schedules and family responsibilities can make planning a vacation difficult, the benefits of a vacation can’t be understated. Annual vacations have been linked to a decrease in heart disease, while also contributing to more positive emotions and fewer negative feelings and depression. And, not surprisingly, vacations have also been shown to improve relationships among spouses and their children.
Doing your job and doing it well should be a priority but not at the expense of your health. Given that we spend more and more of our time working, it’s vital that we incorporate healthy habits into our work day. It’s a small price to pay for a happier, healthier, and more productive life.
Do you want to play a more active role in promoting health and wellness? Check out these great healthcare jobs.