In even the most idyllic work scenarios – fair pay in a field you love with cool colleagues and an inspirational boss — your job could still be a challenge to your good health. Here are six all-too-common ways a workplace can present major challenges to living a healthy lifestyle – and how to combat them, stat.
Sitting can be dangerous.
In case you haven’t heard the news, sitting is the new smoking. Recent studies have found that even with regular exercise, spending too many hours a day in your chair is bad for your health. Even if you took a 45-minute spin class before work, that won’t undo the effects of sitting in front of your computer for the next eight hours. Sitting has been linked to poor mental health, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
How to help: Standing desks are becoming more common— and more affordable; but not every employer is going to make that kind of investment. Ideally, you should get up every 30 minutes. To remind yourself, set a timer on your phone. If an alarm going off regularly won’t fly in your place of business, stand up or pace whenever you talk on the phone. If you’ve got a day booked with meetings, make one or more a walking work session by heading outside or doing laps around your office with colleagues.
Posture is important.
While it may seem out of place to follow warnings about sitting too much at work with a warning about muscle strain, the two go hand in hand in an office environment. If the workstation you are sitting at for hours upon hours is not ergonomic, you can end up with muscle strain in your neck, back and shoulders. Poor ergonomics can also lead to repetitive strains, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, and tendon injuries.
How to help: Customize your workstation for your body. Your computer monitor should be directly in front of you, with the top of the screen at eye level. Keep a footrest around to support your legs and reduce low back strain, especially if you are on the petite side. Your desk chair should have adjustable seat height, back and arm rests, and the base should have five wheels for easy movement without tipping. Lumbar support for your back also is helpful.
Water goes a long way.
It’s second nature to have water handy during a workout, but when you are powering through deadlines, clients, endless emails and seemingly impossible workloads, easy to forget to stay hydrated. Good hydration is linked to clearer thinking, improved moods and higher energy. It is also proven to help keep weight in check, contribute to beautiful skin and keep your digestive system running in tip-top shape.
How to help: The standard rule is to drink 64 ounces of water per day, however, that may not be enough for active people. Take your water bottle from your gym bag to your work bag and keep it filled all day. Keeping hydrated isn’t just about what you drink; it’s also about what you don’t drink. Avoid energy drinks and caffeinated beverages.
Germs might be everywhere.
Many competitive workplaces don’t exactly encourage sick days, forcing many of our coworkers to participate in Bring Your Disease to Work Day. In a recent experiment, researchers found that within two hours, bacteria from the front door had made its way into the break room and was found all over the coffee pot and microwave. Within four hours, that bacteria was detected in 50 percent of the office’s surfaces.
How to help: The simplest solution to catch your coworkers’ colds and flus is to keep your hands clean. Washing your hands before leaving the restroom isn’t enough. Consider soaping up after you pour yourself a cup of coffee or turn on a light switch. It’s not a bad idea to keep hand sanitizer handy as a back up. It is also important to keep your hands away from your face and avoid eating at your desk. Your keyboard is a hub of bacteria and germs, so clean your work area daily.
Grab the apple, skip the bagels.
Sometimes an ordinary day at work can be an extraordinary challenge to a healthy diet. It’s all too common to skip breakfast because you are running late, stress eat at meetings catered with donuts or pizza and eat lunch at your desk instead of taking a break. In addition to the vague nutritional value of most take-out lunches, working while eating can lead to mindless eating. When you are not completely focused on eating, you tend to overeat or finish unsatisfied because you haven’t paid attention to how much food you actually consumed.
How to help: Talk to you boss and coworkers about swapping out company bagels on Friday mornings for platters of nuts and dried fruit. To help avoid skipping breakfast, keep granola bars at your desk or yogurt in the office fridge. You could also make yourself a smoothie the night before, pour it in a travel mug, put it in the refrigerator and grab it on your way out the door in the morning. And take a lunch break! This will not only help you make better meal choices, but it also gets you up and out of your chair.
Check your stress level.
From the overworked underling to the over-pressured executive, stress is a fact of life in any job. But that stress can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, headaches, depression and accelerated aging, if it’s not put in check.
Healthy fixes: It may sound too simple to be effective, but taking deep breaths will temporarily reduce your stress level. When you are in a heated situation, take a cooling breath by inhaling through your mouth for five seconds, hold and exhale for five seconds through the nose. Five minutes of meditation can do wonders for reducing the effects of stress on your body, but not everybody has found their mantra yet. If this is the case, laughing can work just as well. A good belly laugh doesn’t just instantly upgrade your attitude, it lowers cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, and boosts endorphins, which help your mood.