Taking Some Steps Toward Workplace Wellness
The average American spends almost nine hours a day at work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. All that time in one location can really take a toll on your body and even allow you to form some unhealthy habits, so we compiled a list of some frequent office health issues and a few easy tips to help you take control of your health while still doing your job.
We’re all familiar with those tasty treats that just seem to appear out of thin air on our co-workers’ desks and our break room tables, and we might even have some stowed away in the back of our desk drawers. When it’s 3 p.m. and our energy takes a dip, those snacks can seem tantalizing, but Amy Goodson, a registered dietitian at Texas Health Ben Hogan Sports Medicine Fort Worth, said all that snacking can really add up fast.
“When you snack consistently, you tend to take in more calories than you think because your brain never gets a ‘whole’ of anything. Thus you might consume 500 calories just nibbling around,” Goodson said. “A better plan is to have a designed snack mid-afternoon. Something like Greek yogurt and fruit, an apple and peanut butter, or string cheese and a serving of whole wheat crackers gives you the carbohydrates you need for energy and the protein to help you feel full.”
According to a report by CBS, 75 percent of Americans suffer from chronic dehydration. Even though you may drink eight glasses of water or more a day, your intake is offset by how many caffeinated and alcoholic drinks you consume, as well as high-sodium foods. Dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches and muscle pain, which can deter you from performing at work. Goodson suggested keeping a glass or bottle of water at your desk so you can easily sip on it throughout the day. You can still enjoy that cup of joe in the morning or a drink at happy hour after work but compensate by drinking an extra glass or two of water during the day.
There seems to always be a new diet fad that is sweeping the office, and banding together with your co-workers may seem beneficial to staying on track with your diet or having a group to keep you motivated, but Goodson warned against the popular trend.
“I am just not a fan of dieting, as ‘going on a diet’ implies that people will come off of one too,” Goodson said. “I do think accountability can help, so things like everyone bringing their lunch or taking a walk before lunch or after work can be great ways to embrace healthy habits. I am not a fan of office diets or diets of any kind. They never work long-term.”
Goodson suggested finding an app that you can download on your phone to help track your dietary intake if you’re looking for something that can also keep you accountable and aware of what you’re consuming.
Tension Neck Syndrome
Sitting in one place or one position for an extended amount of time, especially when it comes to your neck and shoulders, can lead to tension neck syndrome (TNS). TNS can cause neck and shoulder pain, muscle tightness, and tenderness.
To combat TNS, try using a speakerphone or headset when having to make long phone calls so your neck is not craned in one position. If you have to type a lot or look at a computer screen all day, adjusting the height of your desk, chair or screen can make it more comfortable to go a longer period of time without adjusting, but taking small breaks and stretching out your arms, hands, neck and back is a better option.
Like TNS, bad posture can cause many aches and pains, and you may not even notice you’re consistently slumped over or seated inappropriately until you feel an ache. Investing in a lumbar support pillow for your chair can help remind you to sit in an upright position, but adjusting your desk to be more ergonomic is a cheaper alternative, and some companies will even ergonomically set up your desk for you.
You can visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website to learn how to ergonomically set up your home or office workspace.
A frozen meal is by far the easiest and quickest option for many hardworking or time-crunched individuals to gain sustenance, and with some frozen meals labeled as being healthy choices, it’s easy to think you’re doing something good for yourself, but Goodson gave a warning about how “healthy” these meals might actually be.
“All frozen foods have sodium as sodium prolongs shelf life,” Goodson said. “Many frozen brands aim to add whole grains and take out preservatives to make a ‘healthier’ meal, but the challenge is if you eat frozen or packaged meals, you will get sodium.”
Goodson suggested bringing fresh food with you to work or seeking out fresh options at your building’s café or a nearby restaurant if you’re watching your sodium intake. Another option is to counteract the high sodium in that frozen meal by focusing on eating fresh items for breakfast and dinner.
Another downside to frozen meals seems to be they aren’t filling enough, which can lead to heating up another one or supplementing with something out of the vending machine, offsetting your attempt at eating a lighter meal. Many “healthy” frozen meals come in at or under 250 calories, which Goodson said is just not enough to get you through to dinner time. She suggested still supplementing your meal, but with healthier options.
“One option is to warm up steam-in-the-bag veggies and pour your frozen meal over it. The fiber and water will help you feel full faster,” she said. “Another option would be to bring a side salad to eat with your meal or even something like string cheese or a 100-calorie pack of nuts. Protein, fat and fiber help you feel full faster and stay full longer.”
Long Periods of Sitting
We know sitting for most of the day is bad, but when you’re working, it’s hard to get away from the desk for a little exercise. Along with a bevy of other health issues, sitting for a long period of time can also cause a foggy brain, which is definitely not going to help you get that report done on time, and neither will its mood-draining effects.
Getting up and moving pumps fresh blood and oxygen to the brain, triggering brain- and mood-enhancing chemicals, and it also helps you stretch out and work muscles that are not being used while sitting.
Setting an alarm on your phone or computer can help remind you it’s time to get up and take a brief walking break, which can just consist of heading to the bathroom or taking a quick lap around the office. Investing in a standing desk or a device that can convert your desk into a standing desk can also be beneficial.
Can’t possibly get away from your desk for more than a restroom break? Swapping out your desk chair for an exercise ball, whether during short periods of time or as your full-time chair, can force your core muscles to work.
Controlling coffee intake can be a touchy subject for some, but we’ve all heard about the dangers of consuming too much of the stuff. Thankfully, Goodson said coffee doesn’t deserve as bad of a rap sheet as it may get sometimes.
“Newer research actually suggests that coffee is a fine choice as coffee beans come from the ground and provide some nutrients,” Goodson said. “The challenge becomes when coffees are laden with cream, [whipped cream] and the like, making them a high-calorie shot of energy.”
The real harm comes from the caffeine that is in the coffee. Consumed in moderate amounts, caffeine is fine for generally healthy individuals, but when you start drinking over 500 mg a day — roughly three cups of plain black coffee —you can some of the negative side effects.
If you find yourself pouring a cup of joe late in the day, Goodson suggests assessing if you’re really just in need of a small snack.
“Make sure you aren’t reaching for a cup of coffee because you really just need a snack. When your blood sugar drops, you will feel tired so maybe a snack is in line for mid-afternoon as a pick-me-up,” she said.
We couldn’t write an article about the negative effects of a long workday without talking about stress. The 2014 Annual Work Stress Survey conducted by Harris Interactive found that 83 percent of American employees are stressed by at least one thing at work. Stress can play a part in issues such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression and anxiety, and obesity, increasing employee healthcare costs by 46 percent.
Here are a few tips to help you deal with stress in a better way:
- Change your surroundings. If you know a situation will stress you out, avoid or change it.
- Say no to too many demands on your time. You can only take on so much!
- Communicate. It’s OK to tell your boss you feel frustrated by your workload and ask for a solution. No one will know you are upset if you don’t tell them, and if they don’t know, they can’t help.
- Learn from your mistakes. If you know that something caused a particularly stressful situation, learn from it and revise how you deal with it in the future. For example, if putting off an assignment until the last minute caused you to have to work late in the evening, next time try starting the project a week earlier.
- Adjust standards. Nothing has to be perfect — including you! Cutting corners where it will make a difference in your life is a smart move.
Making small changes at work can lead to a big impact on your health, happiness and well-being, and may even spill over into your life outside of work.
Learn more about how long periods of time in front of a screen at work can also affect your eyes with our article “A Look at Workplace Eye Health.”