Until quite recently, it used to be that most people’s jobs were manual labor, from farmers to hunters, to maids and bakers. While these jobs came with their own inherent dangers and problems, people were usually not lacking in physical activity. However, with the rise in corporate jobs, many people have become more and more sedentary. The forty-hour workweek has become the enemy of health. While many employers are beginning to take notice that the health of their employees is declining, few have taken steps to help ensure workplace wellness. Health professionals frequently counsel against sedentary lifestyles, but when our jobs necessitate sitting behind a desk for eight hours a day it can be difficult to feel like we are taking care of ourselves as much as we ought to be. We may end up feeling run down at the end of the day, even if the work we did wasn’t physical.
Sitting too much and sitting in the wrong way can lead to many health risks, including obesity, high blood pressure, and back and joint issues. This seems very scary given that most of us do not have a choice when it comes to working a traditional job. The good news is that you still have the option to take control of your health! Aside from regular exercise, there are a number of things you can do to lessen your health risks caused by sedentary habits. These have the added benefit of helping you feel more alert and confident.
Get Away From Your Desk
This one is pretty obvious, but many of us get so wrapped up in our work that we often forget to take our breaks. Some of us may find ourselves taking our breaks surfing the web for a few minutes while remaining at our desks so that we can jump right back into our work once our break is done. As tempting as it is to stay sitting once we’re comfy and in the zone, it is important to remember that our bodies crave movement. Take advantage of your break time to stand up and go for a walk. Go outside and take a lap around the parking lot and use the time to clear your mind and get some fresh air and sunshine. The additional activity is not only great for your overall health, but it is also great for boosting your mood and has even been suggested to provide a boost to productivity.
It is suggested that people who work sitting down take a break to stand and stretch every 30-60 minutes. Even though that might seem like a lot of breaks, it is a very simple way to ensure that your body is getting the movement it naturally wants and keep your mind and body awake and alert.
Pack Healthy Snacks
If you find yourself wandering to the office vending machine every afternoon, take a few minutes every morning or the night before to pack a few healthy snacks for your workday. High protein and high fiber snacks are great for helping you avoid the mid-morning munchies and the mid-afternoon crash. As tempting as office snacks can be, things like donuts, candy, chips, and muffins are full of simple carbohydrates that only give short bursts of energy and are shortly followed by another energy crash. While simple carbs certainly have their place in a healthy diet, they are not the best for helping us stay alert. Instead, reach for a healthier alternative of low carb snacks that will help keep your metabolism active and your mind alert. For protein, try a serving of almonds, cheese, or Greek yogurt. For fibers, try celery, carrots, and apples.
You probably feel the strain that sitting all day puts on your body. If you work in an office, chances are that you carry tension in your neck, shoulders, low back, and possibly your forearms. Make it a point to take a moment every day to stand up from your desk and stretch to help alleviate the pressure on your body and break up the monotony of the day. Stretching can help prevent chronic back problems and conditions such as carpal tunnel. If you aren’t sure where to start, try these simple but effective stretches:
- Toe touches: Slowly bend at your waist and touch your toes. Hold for thirty seconds.
- Side stretch: Raise both arms above your head and bend from your waist to the side. Hold for thirty seconds and repeat on both sides.
- Forearm stretch: With your arm extended and palm upward, bend your wrist back (not too far) until you feel a stretch in your forearm. Hold for fifteen seconds on each arm.
Correct Your Posture
Hunching over your work might come naturally to you. As you type, you might become extremely focused on your screen and not realize that you have begun to slouch. While stretching regularly will help to correct this, it won’t do much if you aren’t taking care to have good posture while working. Make sure to keep your back at a 90-100 degree angle, your thighs horizontal, and both feet flat on the floor. Try not to cross your legs as this puts undue pressure on your spine and can lead to uneven weight distribution, as well as circulation issues that can lead to varicose veins, which are more than just a cosmetic concern.
Take a moment to look over your desk space as well. Your computer monitor should be at eye-level to prevent craning your neck too far up or down. Your chair might also need adjustment. If you find yourself hunching forward, you may need to lower your seat; if your knees are too high, try raising your seat. This may also be a good time to replace your office chair with an ergonomic one. Many chairs are designed with long office hours in mind and give better support for your arms, lumbar, and neck than the standard office chair.
While some workplaces are taking steps to better their employees’ wellness, a large majority of the working population are left to their own devices in regards to their health. Remember that our bodies are made to move and try to add some activity to your daily routine. If you find that many of your coworkers are suffering from similar complaints of fatigue and aches, take the oppurtunity to buddy up with them and try these healthy workplace routines. You might even bring it to your supervisor to see if there are some team wellness goals that you and your coworkers can set together.