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Health

How to be healthy at work

Wikimedia Commons- LaurMG

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The above is a sample of one of the many conversations I had with my friends during our first year of post-college office work.

Clearly, we were not braced for office conditions. So much sitting! So little direct sunlight!

Though we obviously felt lucky to be gainfully employed, all those long hours barely moving  in front of a computer felt…. unhealthy. And we weren’t wrong. From poor air quality, to strained eyesight and tense neck syndrome, there are a host of health issues related to office work.

Luckily, there is plenty you can do about it! Here are some tips to stay healthy at work, and ultimately, boost your performance!

Lay off the non-stop snacking

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There’s something about communal work situations that invites a LOT of snacking. Someone brings in cupcakes, a client sends thank-you brownies,  there’s cake for someone’s last day. I’ve even heard that some offices (the magical places they must be) have pantries fully stocked with soda, pretzels, chewy bars, trail mix, GOLDFISH!

Ok, reeeeel it in. There’s no denying that everybody loves snacks, and a little 3 pm dark chocolate pick-me-up never hurt anybody…. but people tend to just mindlessly eat food if it’s nearby, even if they aren’t hungry, and those calories really do add up. With health concerns like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc. all-too prevalent, laying off the snacks (or bringing in healthier alternatives like carrot sticks, unsalted almonds or apple slices) will be better for the whole office! Plus, chances are most of your office has been “trying to eat healthier” since they made it their New Year’s resolution like 8 years ago….so make it a team effort!

Stay hydrated

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Technically, people are supposed to drink 8-10 glasses of water a day to stay adequately hydrated, otherwise we can get sluggish. Over the course of a 9-5ish work day, you should be drinking three 16 ounce glasses of water. To remember, try to start the day off with a 16 ounce glass/ bottle of water at your desk, and make it your goal to refill it before lunch, and then again around 3. If you’re bad at remembering to refill, set a cell phone or computer alarm to remind you.

Side bonus: when we’re properly hydrated we also become less hungry, making it all the easier to ward off those snacks.

Take a hike...or at least a walk

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Get outside! Taking a quick 15 minute break to just walk around the block can make all the difference. Walking burns calories, the outside air is refreshing and helps you de-stress, a little sun can lift your mood, and just standing and moving around helps combat all the discomfort and achiness that slouching over a computer causes. Not to mention it can give you that needed shot of energy if you’re feeling tired at work. Plus, it gives your computer-strained eyes something to look at beyond excel sheets and emails!  

If you’re the type to get swamped and sucked into work during the day, try to find a walking buddy that will force you to take a quick outside break. Or, if you drive to work, pick a far-away spot in the parking lot to get those extra steps in.

1, 2, 3 Bend! 1, 2, 3 Stretch!

WOW! There are a lot of workout/ stretching-at-your-desk Youtube videos! While I’m personally not about to whip out the weights and resistance bands at work, some simple shoulder and neck rolls can also go a long way. Slouching at a computer and spending long amounts of time on the phone are terrible for your neck and back, causing tension and soreness. Using a speakerphone, headset, or standing desk can help with all of that, but actually taking the time to lift your arms over your head, turning your neck and rotating your shoulders can really feel amazing.  Some offices even do group stretching for 20 minutes during the work day!

Spruce (or fern) up your desk with a plant!

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A little green can go a long way! Research shows that having a plant at work can boost productivity and creativity. Plants are soothing and relaxing, plus they help improve focus, sharpen the mind and improve office air conditions! Really the only downside is it can be difficult to choose which plant is best (something not too big but not too small, something that won’t smell too strongly or give your co-worker a weird allergy, something that is relatively low maintenance). Fear not, and click here for your ultimate office plant guide.

Remember to blink

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It sounds obvious, but sometimes if I’m in the “zone” I’ll just spend way too long intently staring at my computer screen without blinking. This is not good. Eye strain from too much screen time is not just bad for your eyes but can cause headaches, light sensitivity and problems focusing. So remember to take really long, deep blinks once in awhile, where you really close your eyes and let them rest for 3 mississippis. Also, make sure your computer screen is a full arm’s length away from you, that your screen isn’t on full brightness, and that you can comfortably read whatever is in front of you without squinting.

Stay sanitized

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It’s common sense, but offices are communal/ shared air spaces, so if one person is sick, the germs are likely to spread. In order to protect yourself try to keep your desk area clean and computer keyboard sanitized (apparently, there are hundreds more bacteria on the average desk than in a toilet bowl.) And, as always, remember to wash your hands! ‘

Uphold the golden rule

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...you know, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? Basically, treat people with respect, courtesy and kindness! Whether your office environment is big or small chances are you interact with people during the day, and going out of your way to make these interactions as positive as possible will make a huge difference. Take the time to smile and ask people how their days are going, offer help, a word of motivation or even just a “ugh are you swamped?” when you notice people are stressed out, and keep your eyes open for any red flags (whether that be inappropriate office conduct, or someone who just looks way too overtired). When work becomes a mechanic rhythm of wake up, go to office, sit at computer, leave work, day after day after day it’s simply not good for our mental and emotional well-being. Humans are fundamentally social beings! With so much of our week taking place at work, it’s in our best interest to make our work environment a pleasant one. It will not just boost moods and productivity but will also help combat feelings of stress, anxiety and isolation.

Maintain that work- life balance

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This one’s more “big picture” but the bottom line is that often the best way to be healthier at work is to not be AT work too much. Days and days on end of long hours is not only physically debilitating but mentally problematic and could lead to a whole host of problems from over-exhaustion to burnout to depression. A lot of people have a hard time keeping a healthy perspective, and balancing work, downtime, outside obligations and a social life (and how to do that could be a whole other article), but just remember to not let the work routine get the best of you or you’ll be smashing the photocopier and tossing the water cooler before you know it….

Of course, it’s always important to keep in mind that worldwide there are countless jobs with much higher intrinsic risks--construction work, mining, sweatshop labor, working in a slaughterhouse--than sitting at a desk. Unfortunately, these jobs are also inextricably connected to poverty. So, while I consider myself very lucky that my primary work health concerns are neck stiffness and strained eyes, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to do as much as I can about it.

Besides, I’ve always wanted a cute little cactus for my desk.  


And now that you're in the healty frame of my mind, spread the love and go to TAKE ACTION NOW to provide needed vaccines for people worldwide.