Any full-time worker will tell you that slogging through the proverbial nine-to-five is no picnic. Even those who have a job they absolutely love undoubtedly have their off days, when they’re just not feeling up to the task. It’s not surprising that the endless routine of full-time work can sometimes seem an unappealing prospect. But have you ever considered that this might have something to do with how work affects your health?
Workplace health is becoming an increasing concern in the urban world. With more and more employees spending five days a week stuck behind office desks and cubicles, the dangers of having a sedentary lifestyle are quickly becoming apparent. The lack of movement and exercise at a typical office job, coupled with poor eating habits based on convenience, have resulted in health levels taking a serious nosedive. It’s not just physical health that’s being affected, either – mental issues such as stress, anxiety and depression are becoming more commonplace, thanks in part to busy workplace demands.
Going to work feeling ill and exhausted isn’t just bad for the individual worker; it also affects the overall company in a negative way, as productivity levels always drop when employees are slogging through work not feeling their best. We spend so many of our waking hours at our jobs that it’s definitely worth striving to be as happy and healthy as possible when we’re working.
If you think that your sedentary lifestyle and workplace habits might be affecting your overall health and wellbeing, keep reading to find out how to beat those workplace blues.
Sedentary behaviour is, quite simply, any activity which involves sitting or lying down, such as watching television, using the computer, playing video games and sitting in the workplace, to name a few. The rise of the sedentary lifestyle in today’s society can be attributed to the popularity of technological devices in the last few decades, both for entertainment and working purposes. This has made way for a digital age in which both children and adults are continuing to spend more time inside using technology than exploring and enjoying the outdoors.
While we’re studying at school or university, our days are still fairly flexible, allowing plenty of opportunities for movement and exercise in between classes. Once we enter the workforce, however, it can be much more difficult to counteract the many hours we spend sitting at our desks. Sitting in one position for hours without moving is highly detrimental to your health, and can lead to a multitude of physical ailments and even medical diseases in the long run. Having a sedentary lifestyle is now popularly known as the “sitting disease.” It’s an unfortunately apt name – studies have shown that sedentary behaviours can greatly increase a person’s risk of growing obese, as well as of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and breast and colon cancer.
Bust A Move
So what’s the solution? To keep on the move, of course. You can combat the negative effects of your everyday sedentary habits by taking the effort to stretch, stand and walk more in your workplace. The key is to fit in regular intervals of physical activity throughout the day, to ensure that your body isn’t stuck in one position for long periods of time. While you might think that a long gym session at the end of the day will suffice, the truth is that constantly moving throughout the day is the best way to stay healthy and active overall.
While it can be difficult to top up your fitness levels if you need to work at a desk, there are several crafty ways to slot in more exercise opportunities. It’s important to shift between sitting and standing, so try taking phone calls standing up, or even pacing. Go on regular breaks to exercise your legs, such as a five minute walk every hour or so, and stretch your body regularly to work out all the kinks whenever you feel cramped from sitting down for too long. When you need to speak to your co-workers, visit them at their desks as opposed to simply emailing them, and if possible, arrange your workspace so that you’re required to walk to get to the bathroom, printer and/or kitchen area. You might also want to rethink your commute to and from work. If you usually take your car or public transport, consider walking or biking instead, or even getting off a few stops earlier on the train or bus every day. Lastly, remember to make the most of your lunch break, and spend the entire hour outside the office if possible.
If you have a sedentary lifestyle and you’ve been experiencing tension in your back, there’s a high probability those two factors are related. Sitting down too much for too long can cause back pain due to increased stiffness, weakened muscles and a feebler spine, as lack of exercise can lead to the spinal discs becoming malnourished. To relieve any back pain sustained through long periods of sitting at work, it’s important to stay active and engage in a variety of physical workouts that will stretch the limbs and strengthen the spine.
Yoga and Pilates are both popular forms of gentle exercise that can greatly help to alleviate tension in the back, neck and shoulder area. The actual physical alignment of your body whenever you sit for long periods of time may also be contributing to any stiff or aching sensations you might be experiencing. For maximum comfort, it’s best for your body to always be positioned in a neutral manner, with your joints all aligned naturally. This means that your hands, wrists and forearms should be straight and parallel to the ground if typing, writing or leaning on a desk), your head should be level or tilted slightly forward, your feet should be supported by the floor, your shoulders should be relaxed and your back upright, and your thighs and hips should also be parallel to the ground. Sitting in a neutral position like so will ensure that there is less strain on your muscles and tendons, although you should still endeavour to readjust your posture and stand up and walk around at regular intervals.
There’s no doubt that having a healthy and nutritious everyday diet takes effort. When you’re in a hurry, it’s often much more convenient to grab something quick and easy, like a takeaway meal. In regards to workplace eating habits, much the same is true, as feeling stressed and rushed off your feet might prompt you to opt for the nearest quick fix of energy. If you’re used to hastily scarfing down takeaway foods whenever you’re got a spare minute at work, you may want to reconsider how your eating habits might be affecting your overall health.
Everyone knows it’s important to have a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and to moderate your intake of calorie-laden fast foods, such as burgers, French fries and meat pies. This rule definitely applies to the meals you consume at work, which should be light, filling and rich in fibre, protein and nutrients. But did you know that how you eat is just as important as what you eat? Although it might be easier to gobble down one big meal for lunch, it’s actually much better for your metabolism if you eat smaller meals spaced throughout the day. Managing your meal portions is also a good way to ensure that you have just enough energy to boost you through work. Eating until you are overly full will only lead to a bloated stomach and feelings of grogginess – not a particularly productive combination!
If you’re feeling a tad hungry at work, reaching for a snack is usually the best way to get rid of the munchies until your next meal. Unfortunately, the snacks that are the most tempting are always the worst for us. While it can be difficult to resist the appeal of the vending machine or lolly jar at work, opting for a healthier alternative is much better for your body and your mind, both in the short term and long term. Eating nutritious snacks means you won’t have to suffer the sugar hangover that inevitably follows the consumption of a chocolate bar, or the dehydration that accompanies eating an bag of potato chips.
The key to successful snacking in the workplace is to plan ahead. Bringing delicious perishable snack options from home, such as low-fat yogurt with fruit or reduced-fat cheese with wholegrain crackers, will save you from splurging out on unhealthy snack options at work. When it comes to healthy non-perishable snacks, there are also a range of options which are both good for you and can fill you up just enough to sustain you until your next meal. Keep a few of the following ready-to-eat snacks at your desk for those peckish moments:
- Trail mix or dried fruit
- Unsalted cashews, almonds or pistachios
- Cans of tuna and reduced-fat crackers
- Pieces of fruit (an apple, orange, banana, or punnet of strawberries)
- Fruit toast or wholegrain toast with a light spread of jam or natural-style peanut butter
The Caffeine Craze
These days, it seems like every modern adult survives their workday by gulping down countless cups of coffee or cans of energy drink. While these caffeine bursts will keep you alert for a certain period of time, there are many disadvantages to having such a high caffeine intake. Caffeine is a central nervous stimulant, and as such, it drastically affects your brain, spinal cord, and other nerves in your body. Problems caused by too much caffeine can include an uneven heartbeat, raised blood pressure, an upset stomach, dehydration, and dizziness and shakiness.
It’s important to only consume moderate amounts of caffeine on an everyday basis. “Moderate” is different for everyone, but be sure to factor in your individual weight, height and diet when you re-evaluate your caffeine consumption. You may experience withdrawal symptoms at first if you’re usually a heavy coffee drinker, but it’s much better for your overall health if you can reduce your dependence on caffeine. If you find yourself feeling tired or groggy at work, try switching to a healthier alternative like herbal tea. The green, chamomile and peppermint varieties are all great options for soothing the body and revitalising the mind.
You’ll be hard pressed to find an office or desk job today that doesn’t involve using the computer. Whether you’re spending just a few hours or the entire workday squinting at a screen, five days a week of doing so adds up to a lot of time straining your eyes to read tiny text on a lit background. It’s not surprising, therefore, that eye strain is becoming an increasing health concern for full-time workers. The symptoms are varied, and can include problems such as blurred vision, dry eyes, dizziness, and/or headaches. Your vision may also be deteriorating over time, but you may not realise this until you sit an eye test or visit an eye health specialist.
If you find yourself experiencing eye strain, or you know that you spend a great deal of time on a computer or laptop at work, it’s important to be vigilant about your eye health. If you are constantly experiencing intensive eye strain, it’s very important that you contact an eye doctor to discuss the problem. Otherwise, there are several preventative measures you can take to ease potential eye strain in the workplace, including:
- Having the right kind of lighting in your office – both bright sunlight or fluorescent interior lighting is harsh on the eyes and can increase your eye strain symptoms
- Blinking frequently and using eye drops to kept your eyes moistened and prevent eye fatigue
- Adjusting the text size on your screen to make it easier to read – try making it two or three times bigger
- Taking regular breaks away from your computer and practising looking at objects both close up and in the distance
While working five days a week at a desk can have a significant impact on a person’s physical health, the mental burdens of work can be just as problematic. Mental health issues associated with workplace demands are on the rise, with stress and anxiety in particular taking precedence. A study released in early 2013 confirmed that mental stress is a serious problem in Australia, costing Australian businesses over $10 billion per year due to absent workers and loss of productivity.
While the causes of stress and anxiety are not exact, as the nature of these mental illnesses varies with each individual, it’s not difficult to see how worrying over work issues could prompt a person to feel under pressure and even suffocated in the workplace. This could be due to concerns over job security, long hours and pressing responsibilities, tight deadlines, conflict with co-workers or employees, or any other number of factors.
Having a mental illness drastically affects not only a person’s work performance, but their entire life – their behaviour and habits, their beliefs and attitudes, and their overall wellbeing. If you or someone you know is suffering from stress or anxiety due to their work demands or habits, it’s important to reach out and get help. Talking to a health professional can be enormously beneficial in getting you on the right path to feeling emotionally and mentally well-balanced once again. Otherwise, there are different ways in which workers can rectify or reduce sources of stress and anxiety in the workplace, such as by:
- Discussing your concerns with your employer and/or co-workers, and making sure you have the right support to accomplish the work you’ve been given
- Organizing your tasks and priorities for work in a practical and doable way that will help you to feel less rushed off your feet
- Taking care of yourself by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep
- Ensuring there is a balance of work and play in your life by making time for friends and family, as well as time for yourself
The Final Word: Be Good To Yourself
We all have ups and downs when it comes to the workplace – some days are stressful and tiring, while others are interesting and productive. A lot of the time, how quickly and competently you accomplish tasks and achieve goals at work depends on your overall health and wellbeing. It’s important to take care of yourself to ensure that you’re doing the best work you possibly can, and that your body and mind isn’t suffering five days a week due to physical or mental tension. By following the workplace health guidelines outlined here, you can hopefully wake up every morning eager and energised, ready to face the day. If you’re on the lookout for further health and fitness advice, don’t forget to browse through Compare the Market’s other comprehensive health guides.