Spending all day in an office can be, well, not the best for health. Being inside all day, sitting hunched over a desk, having daily access to junky snack food, focusing for long periods of time… Going to work can affect your health in a number of ways. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to counteract the unhealthy aspects of the office. Not all of these may be within your control, but you’re sure to find a few that are applicable to your situation.
- Make your commute enjoyable. Ah, the dreaded commute. Did you know that the average American spends almost nine days per year commuting to and from work? That’s a lot of time! Workplace wellness starts here. Instead of scrolling aimlessly through your phone, give yourself something to look forward to on your commute. Read a book, listen to a podcast, listen to music that makes you happy, give yourself something to look forward to on your commute! You could even pick up a hobby like learning a language during your commute with audio content in foreign languages and apps like Duolingo.
- Bring your own lunch. Eating out is simply not as healthy as eating in. Cooking your own food will allow you to make nutrient-dense meals and know exactly what’s in them; you won’t give yourself the extra sugar, oil, and salt piled on by restaurants. When I worked in an office, I did a lot of meal prepping on weekends so that I would have enough food to pack for the week. You could also always have dinner leftovers, make sandwiches, or cook the morning-of. Your wallet will thank you, too—eating out is always more expensive than cooking your own food! If you love the restaurants near your office or want to go out with your coworkers, pick one day a week to go out for lunch and bring the rest of your lunches from home; it will also give you something to look forward to!
- Go outside as much as you can. My least favorite part of working in an office was being inside all day. Getting outside is incredibly important to our health. We make vitamin D in response to sun exposure, and sunlight is thought to boost serotonin. Exposure to sunlight also resets our circadian rhythm, among a number of speculated health benefits. At the very least, commit to a walk outside during your lunch break, but try to see if you can take a quick walk outside mid-morning and afternoon as well. My internship office had a few dogs that people would bring to work, so I would sometimes offer to walk the dogs in order to get outside.
- Take in as much natural light as possible. You might not have control over the amount of natural light you get while at work, but if possible try to maximize your natural light exposure by working near a window. Florescent lights have been associated with an elevated stress response in some people, and natural light provides a health-boosting alternative. One study found that office workers exposed to more natural light via windows reported higher sleep quality and greater subjective well-being.
- Minimize the office treats. Many offices provide copious amounts of junky snacks to their workers—Oreos, chips, candy, soda, etc—all sitting in the break room tempting you as you try to make it through your inbox. My first piece of advice is to break the habit; if you aren’t used to constantly grabbing treats then you won’t think about it so often. If you’re still tempted, bring your own healthy snacks to reach for when you want something to eat. I recommend fruit or some kind of veggie snack like kale chips! Finally, see if you can find out who’s bringing the treats and talk to them about bringing healthier snacks; maybe offer to bring a fruit platter or bake healthy brownies for the office!
- Don’t go crazy on the caffeine. Caffeinated beverages such as coffee are particularly popular among office workers, perhaps because working at an office can be incredibly tiring. If you love your daily cup of coffee, go for it: caffeine actually boasts a number of health benefits including enhanced brain function, improved metabolism, and lowered risk of a number of diseases including Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, and even certain types of cancer. You can have too much of a good thing, though. Caffeine has also been shown to increase stress levels, cause rapid breathing and anxiety, lower sleep quality, cause digestive distress, and raise blood pressure. One of the most notable features of caffeine is its addictive quality; daily users report withdrawal symptoms such as headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and flu-like symptoms when they do not consume caffeine. The moral of the story? One or two cups may enhance health and productivity but try not to become reliant on caffeine or consume excessive amounts.
- Become friends with your colleagues! Social relationships are a key and under-looked component of health, and the office can provide a venue to make like-minded friends. You spend 40 hours a week with your colleagues; work will be much more enjoyable if you’re friends!
- Do something for yourself every day. The whirlwind of an office job (wake up, get ready for work, commute, work, commute, make dinner, bed, repeat) can be overwhelming and make you feel like you don’t have enough time for yourself. Counteract this by committing to at least one activity that is one hundred percent for you each day. You don’t need to take a lot of time; this could be as simple as meditating for ten minutes, reading, drawing, working out, walking, watching an episode of your favorite show, listening to music—whatever lights you up!
I hope these tips are helpful! Even if you don’t work an office job, these tips can be adapted to your individual lifestyle.
Have a great work week!
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