While some jobs, such as those in construction, trucking or manual labor, have obvious hazards, other job-related health hazards are less noticeable. You may not be risking your life at your desk job, but the modern workplace isn’t exactly conducive to optimal health.
You spend about half of your waking hours at your desk, so you might as well do what you can to be happy, healthy and comfortable.
From stress, to sedentary behavior, to breakroom birthday cake, the modern workplace is full of more hazards than you might imagine! Whether you work in an office or your home office, there are plenty of hacks and habits that can improve your well-being and help you stay healthy at work.
1. Move More, Sit Less
You may have heard that sitting is the new smoking. Human beings aren’t designed to sit, and unfortunately, exercise doesn’t undo the damage. Experts recommend that you walk around or stand for at least two hours a day to stave off the health risks associated with sedentary behavior.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to incorporate more activity into your workday that don’t require you to go for a lunch break run:
- Park your car farther away from the office.
- Take the stairs.
- Go for walking meetings (more on that below.)
- Fill your water bottle halfway, so you force yourself to take more trips to the water cooler.
- Set a calendar reminder to get up and move every 30 or 60 minutes.
Even if you’ve got the most ergonomic desk setup in your department, it’s never wise to stay in the same position for hours on end. Be sure to switch up your position throughout the day by taking time to move around, stretch, stand up or adjust your chair. Movement, in general, is associated with improved productivity, which yields lower health care costs and fewer employee absences.
2. Make Your Desk Space More Ergonomic
You may not have a choice when it comes to how much of your work must be done in front of a computer, but there are changes you can make to your workspace that reduce stress on the body without hindering productivity. There is a variety of ergonomic office equipment and technology, including standing desks, anti-fatigue floormats, stools, lumbar support pillows, footrests, wrist rests, mice and keyboards, all of which can significantly improve your comfort.
Even standing can help. One study found that office workers who transitioned from a seated to a standing position every 30 minutes throughout the workday experienced less low back pain and significantly lower fatigue levels than their seated counterparts without affecting productivity.
3. Stock Healthy Snacks
You’re probably familiar with the term “stress eating,” or using food as a coping mechanism to deal with something difficult or stressful. While it’s OK to give in to the occasional craving, stress eating can become habitual over time, especially during often chaotic working hours.
Instead of impulsively reaching for that breakroom donut or bag of salty potato chips next time stress hits, power through the task and reward yourself with a yummy, healthy snack once it’s complete.
Stashing a variety of healthy snacks in your desk drawer is also a great way to combat the dreaded afternoon slump. It’s so easy to reach for the aforementioned donut or potato chips when you’re feeling sluggish and want a jolt of energy, but junk food offers just that: a short burst of energy that only makes you crash harder. Swap the empty calories for brain-boosting nuts, or satisfy your sugar craving with a handful of no-sugar-added dried fruit.
4. Stash a Pair of Sneakers
When you have a pair of sneakers stashed under your desk, there’s no excuse why you can’t get your heart pumping throughout the day. You don’t even have to hit the gym or go for a run on your lunch break. Just take a walk outside or go up and down the stairs a few times.
5. Go Outside
You know that feeling you get after spending time outside in the fresh air and sunshine? It’s not your imagination. Mounting evidence proves that nature is really good for you.
In fact, one study found that going outside is more energizing than a cup of coffee! Next time the afternoon is dragging, or you’re suffering a bout of writer’s block, take a walk to trigger your brain’s neuro-pathways, get some inspiration and boost your energy levels.
Of course, we can’t spend all day outside, so do what you can to bring the outdoors indoors. Office workers with views of nature report greater job and life satisfaction, and experience better health. If you can’t see nature from where you’re sitting, bring it to you by decorating your desk with a small plant or two. Snake plants, spider plants and rubber plants do well in low-light conditions, even under the glow of fluorescent bulbs.
6. Schedule Walking Meetings
American workers tend to be chained to their desks because productivity and efficiency are so highly prized, but coincidentally, one of the things that make us more efficient is leaving our desks. Walking meetings improve collaboration, productivity and creativity. It’s no secret that Steve Jobs was a proponent of walking meetings, and Mark Zuckerberg is a fan of them as well. Even Aristotle is said to have walked as he taught.
Your calendar is likely filled with meetings that could easily be moved outside. Instead of taking every phone call with a client, colleague or vendor at your desk, pop in a pair of earbuds and go for a walk. Walking meetings also work for groups of people and help flatten organizational structure. When executives and employees walk side-by-side, it eliminates hierarchical boundaries, fosters the free-flowing exchange of ideas and strengthens personal connections.
7. Wear a Fitness Tracker
Whether you decide to wear a fitness tracker to track your personal goals or to start a competition with your coworkers, tracking your activity is a great way to prioritize movement and stay healthy at work, even it if means getting more steps in than usual. Maybe you’ll find yourself requesting more walking meetings, walking to pick up lunch instead of having it delivered or taking the stairs.
8. Improve Your Desk Posture
If you find yourself sore and in pain at the end of the day, your poor desk posture could be to blame. Maintaining a healthy seated posture is one of the easiest ways to stay healthy at work.
Slouching in your seat or hunching over your desk puts a strain on your neck, shoulders, spine and hip flexor muscles. It can also cause low back pain by exaggerating the lumbar curve in your spine, which can lead to a bulging or herniated disc.
Proper posture is key. Learn how to sit correctly with these tips:
- Sit all the way back in your chair. If you can’t reach, support your low back with a lumbar support pillow or rolled up towel.
- Don’t sit on the edge of your seat. This can cause your low back to overarch, your head to drop and your shoulders to hunch.
- Relax your shoulders and keep them away from your ears.
- Keep your arms close to your sides to prevent your shoulders from rounding.
- Maintain a 90-degree bend in your elbows.
- Tilt the crown of your head toward the ceiling and slightly tuck your chin.
- Roll your shoulders back, keep your chest open and maintain a slight arch in your low back/pelvic region to keep your neck and back comfortable.
- Place your feet flat on the floor, facing forward, so your knees are in line with your hips. Use a footstool or stack of sturdy books if necessary.
- Position your computer monitor about an arm’s length away. The top of the screen should be at or just below eye level.
9. Wear Blue Light Filtering Glasses
Hours upon hours spent in front of a screen add up. Blurred vision, headaches, dry eyes, redness and eye fatigue are all signs of eye strain, which is only exacerbated by all that screen time. Blue light penetrates the eyes’ natural filters over time, which can lead to serious, sometimes permanent eye damage, including age-related macular degeneration and cone cell death in the retina.
Plus, blue light disrupts circadian rhythm, interfering with your body’s ability to fall asleep at night. Fortunately, blue light glasses offer an affordable way to reduce the amount of blue light your eyes are exposed to throughout the workday.
10. Take Stretch Breaks
All that sitting can lead to work-related musculoskeletal disorders like tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and low back pain. Next time you feel an ache, pain or tension, try one of these seated stretches to readjust your body and refresh your mind.
- Place your right hand over your left-hand fingers. Slowly bend your wrist back until you feel a subtle stretch in your fingers, hands and forearms. Hold the stretch for a few seconds, breathe deeply and repeat three times. Then, bend your wrist in the other direction. Don’t forget to repeat this process on your other hand!
- Slowly tilt your head toward your right shoulder until you feel a light stretch, inhaling and exhaling deeply. Hold for up to 10 seconds and repeat at least three times on both sides.
- While seated, take a deep inhale, then lean forward, exhaling slowly as you drop your head toward your knees and allow your hands to drop toward the floor. Hold this position for several seconds, allowing the tension to release. Take another breath and exhale as you rise slowly, restacking your spine. Repeat this process three to five times.
11. Stop Eating at Your Desk
Instead of scarfing down your lunch at your desk, try switching up the scenery. Eating in a designated area, preferably with other people, allows you to truly get a break, reset your brain and gear up for the afternoon. It can also help prevent you from overeating, which you’re much more likely to do if you’re simultaneously eating a sandwich and surfing the Internet.
12. Take a Power Nap
Naps are known mood boosters that also reduce stress and improve alertness, productivity, learning, memory and creativity. If you’re not lucky enough to have a nap room or you can’t get away with a snooze at your desk, there are other ways to creatively catch some Z’s during the workday. For instance, use the first half of your lunch break to eat and the second half to take a quick nap in your car.
A short 20-minute nap has been shown to boost alertness in shift workers, and even just resting has been found to be as relaxing as sleep. You’ll wake up feeling more alert and refreshed, and that afternoon slump won’t stand a chance.
13. Take Advantage of Your Company’s Employee Wellness Programs
Your company could already offer a range of wellness programs and benefits you may not realize. On-site gyms, saunas, instructor-led exercise classes, walking paths and visiting massage therapists are just a few wellness perks many companies offer employees at little to no cost, so take advantage of them! Your company might even offer a monthly wellness allowance, which you can use to pay for things like new running shoes or gym memberships.
If your company doesn’t offer these types of programs, ask your HR department what it would take to institute an employee wellness program. After all, it improves well-being and creates a sense of belonging.
It doesn’t take much to make an impact. Implement a few of these hacks and habits into your work life, and you’ll see just how easy it is to feel more motivated, increase productivity and stay healthy at work!