Small steps to ensure you maintain your health in a sedentary role.
From screens and stress to lots of snacking – Victoria Stokes finds out how to keep healthy when your job means sitting down all day.
I read an article recently that made me think “why bother?”. The story claimed that working at a desk all day counteracted the metabolism-boosting benefits of going to the gym. I spotted the gym bag under my desk, dutifully packed early that morning, and glared at it aghast.
Other recent news items have likened sitting all day to smoking, calling it the new cancer-giver, while research by Kallø found that female office workers consume up to 100,000 extra calories worth of desk treats every year. It seems that if you work in an office, minding your health is a losing battle.
If you’re an office-dweller, the odds may be stacked slightly against you but that doesn’t mean you simply shouldn’t bother. Here, we suss out how you can mind your health al desko.
Office work can often mean an unending stream of birthday cakes for your co-workers and 3 pm treats to beat the slump, but short of banning yourself from the communal kitchen, what can you do to make sure you’re not over-consuming at work? Well, you’ll be glad to hear you don’t have to run off fumes. Far from swearing off all snacks and treats you can instead accommodate and plan for them in your diet. A small 100-200 calorie snack isn’t going to throw your day out of whack, so make room for it and have a snack stash nearby. Someone brought in baked goods or a birthday cake? Have a sliver or a single serving, if you want to.
If temptation continually gets the better of you and you can never stop at one tray bake or one slice of chocolate cake, look at your other eating habits. Are you eating a minuscule breakfast or skipping it altogether and leaving yourself ravenous by 11 am? Is your homemade lunch lacking, leaving you lusting after something a little more tasty later in the day? The best way to avoid overindulgence is to fill yourself up with a hearty breakfast and lunch. If you’re satiated and satisfied you’ll be less likely to reach for that tray of doughnuts. And if you like to bring your own snacks in? Portion them out into snack-size containers so you’re less inclined to eat the whole packet.
Take A Seat (Break)
Humans are built to stand upright and sitting all day, as comfy as it may be, is bad news for your bod. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to a whole load of health nastiness, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression and anxiety and even early death. Add to that, sitting for long periods of time can lead to muscle wastage in your legs and glutes (ever heard of office ass? It’s basically a saggy bum caused by sitting.) But the thoughts of a stand-up desk a la Silicon Valley? Well, we just wouldn’t get a tap done.
When your job involves sitting in front of a screen all day it can be hard to see how things can improve, but small steps are, quite literally, the way forward.
Experts reckon you should aim for a two-minute ‘move break’ twice an hour. Sending an email to a co-worker? Walk over to their desk and talk to them instead. Thirsty? Take a jaunt to the kitchen to get some water or make a brew. Even changing the position you’re sitting in every eight minutes can help, especially if you’re a chronic sloucher.
Away from your desk, there’s plenty you can do as well. The latest research suggests you need 60-75 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per day to combat the dangers of excessive sitting. That’s roughly equivalent to getting in your 10,000 daily steps so take that walk on your lunch break and get off the bus a couple of stops early to stretch your legs. Try other forms of exercise too. A morning workout can get you amped up for a more active day ahead – and let’s be real here, it’s easy to talk yourself out of going after work. For the best boost, swap your regular spin class (more sitting!) for exercises that require you to stay upright, anything from step-ups and box jumps to squats, deadlifts and running are good choices.
A Total Eyesore
Ever left work late, eyes tired and strained with what feels like the beginnings of a tension headache? It’s not surprising that staring at a screen all day isn’t great for your eyes. In fact, its effects are so common they’ve even been given a name: Computer Vision Syndrome. CVS includes a lot of unpleasant symptoms and disorders caused by extended work on a digital screen, among them dry eyes and eye strain. Together they can lead to other symptoms like headache and nausea, and over time can cause your eyesight to deteriorate. So what can you do to look after your eyes when staring at a screen is an essential part of your job?
First, adjust your screen monitor. Keep it about an arm’s length away and, as much as possible, position it so you’re looking down into the monitor, instead of gazing at it at eye level. Next, try to take screen breaks. Staring at a screen can suppress your blink reflex which can result in your eyes getting dry, so every 10 minutes or so look away for five seconds and look into the distance. It’ll relax some of the muscles, and help your eyes to focus. A pair of blue light blocking glasses can help too. Blue light from our screens not only wreaks havoc on your sleep cycle but strains your eyes so invest in a pair of specs from Ambr Eyewear. Their in-built technology filters out blue light and comes with an anti-glare coating. They’re available in prescription and non-prescription too. Finally? Keep a bottle of eye drops at your desk and use it when your eyes feel dry and irritated.
Ah, stress; part and parcel of most jobs, but over time an unhealthy level of stress can have repercussions for your physical wellbeing. Research says working for a bad boss can contribute to anxiety, unhealthy habits and heart disease while staying late can lead to heart attack, if you’re working more than 10 hours a day. Continuing low-level stress can be equally chaotic for your health, not only leaving you tired, grouchy and burned out but also in some cases encouraging the onset of chronic health conditions. Long hours and unmanageable workloads can have a knock-on effect in other areas of our life too. Think erratic sleeping patterns and poor eating habits.
So what can be done if work demands are placing you under an unhealthy amount of stress in your office job? On the medicinal side of things, looking after yourself in the other areas of your life can pay dividends. That means making time to eat well and exercise, relaxing and getting quality sleep, and making time to see friends. If you need a helping hand, popping a magnesium supplement is great for regulating sleep, while a Vitamin B complex helps with fatigue and irritability that can exacerbate feelings of stress.
Making regular time to recharge during your workday can help you manage stress too. Schedule regular breaks when you can and if it helps, make a note of your stressors, to help you get to the root of the problem. But a more direct approach may be needed in this scenario: if you’re overworked and the demands of your job are simply too much, it’s time to speak up and talk to your boss. Work-place confrontation is never easy, but when the price of staying quiet is your health, is it really worth it?