There is no shortage of studies and reports coming out telling us that some of our common daily routines are rife with unhealthy practices. Some of these practices include the following:
- Sitting too much
- Staring at a screen too long
- Slouching and slumping
- Not getting enough fresh air and sunlight
Negative Health Effects of Common Workplace Practices
Studies have found that sitting for extended periods is linked to worse mental health, higher risk for heart attacks and heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, bad cholesterol, and excess belly fat. Sitting for extended periods of time may even reduce your life expectancy. But if you think going for a run in the morning will counteract an eight-hour day of sitting, you’re wrong. Experts think sitting and exercise may be two totally separate activities, which means that while exercise is centrally important for a healthy lifestyle, we need to stop sitting for extended periods of time.http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/20140407/sitting-disease-faq
Staring at a screen
The medical term for the negative effects associated with staring at a screen for too long is computer vision syndrome (CVS). Symptoms range from eye fatigue and headaches to neck and shoulder pain. While no conclusive evidence indicates that CVS can lead to long-term or permanent damage to the eyes, the jury is out on this one, and many of the short-term side effects can pose ongoing health problems.http://www.webmd.com/eye-health/computer-vision-syndrome
Slouching and slumping
Something as easy to overlook as slouching at your desk or slumping over your smartphone screen can have serious negative health effects. Bad posture can lead to bad circulation, digestive tract issues, feelings of depression, depleted energy levels, and increased stress.http://www.prevention.com/health/healthy-living/how-bad-posture-affects-your-health-and-happiness It can even result in spinal deformities through repeated weakening and stress on muscles and ligaments that weren’t meant to take the strain.http://www.medicaldaily.com/stop-slouching-poor-posture-can-create-abnormal-spine-alignment-and-drain-your-body-energy-278520
Missing out on fresh air and sunlight
As we spend more time indoors glued to our many screens, we lose out on something that’s critical for a healthy body and mind: fresh air and sunlight. Not getting enough fresh air can lead to low energy and feelings of mental and physical sluggishness. That’s because our body needs oxygen to fuel our cells, including those in our brains. Missing out on sunlight leads to a lack of vitamin D, which increases our risk of developing osteoporosis and may be connected to risk factors for multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.http://www.livestrong.com/article/436651-the-effects-of-sunlight-fresh-air-on-the-body/
Tips and Tricks to Make Your Workplace Healthier
Luckily, there are some easy ways to reverse bad habits in the workplace. Start at the top of the list and work your way down to scale up a happier and healthier workplace.
- Set a timer for breaks at 20-minute intervals
- Challenge yourself to modify one habit per day
Several smartphone apps have caught on to the health perils of sitting, staring, and slouching all day. The Stand Up! iPhone app is a work-break timer you can set up once to fit your schedule and then forget about. Features include customizable reminder intervals, alarm sounds, and a display telling you how long until your next alarm. The free version comes with one alarm. For Android there is Twenty, a much simpler app that reminds you every 20 minutes to stand up and take a two-minute break. Just swipe down to start your reminders when you sit down at your desk.
Taking regular breaks throughout the day can help you avoid sitting and staring at a screen for prolonged periods and give you a chance to stand up, stretch, adjust your posture, stay hydrated, or go for a quick walk for some exercise, fresh air, and sunlight.
Committing to a permanent lifestyle change is often the hardest part of trying to achieve a healthier, happier workplace. Try setting yourself a daily challenge; change one behavior each day and see how you feel at the end of the week. Here’s an example of one week of daily challenges:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Replace a heavy lunch (like pasta) with a light salad
- Use your break time to go for a short walk outside
- Stretch your back, neck, legs, and hips every time you take a bathroom break
- Replace your morning coffee with 15 jumping jacks
Instead of booking that drab meeting room with the cast-off chairs for your next one-on-one meeting, book an unfixed location so you can stroll and chat (you get bonus points if it’s outside). This is a perfect opportunity to break up the long hours of sitting we do each day. Try scheduling a walking meeting right after lunch to improve digestion and counteract sluggishness after a heavy meal. The exercise and fresh air will get more oxygen moving through your body, which will help you think better so you may find your meetings becoming more productive and efficient.
As studies on the deleterious side effects of sitting all day have piled up, alternative desk configurations have taken the world by storm. This step involves a much bigger investment and lifestyle change than a break timer or walking meetings, but when we’re talking about your lifespan, it could be worth it. Standing desks can range from about $22 for an IKEA hack to over $5000 for an F1 Stir Kinetic Desk. Most people will be interested in something in between those options. The Wirecutter has a great comprehensive review of the best standing desks out there.
The basic idea is to solve the health problem of sitting for extended periods. The most important considerations when choosing a standing desk is the angle of your head, neck, and wrists, which makes an adjustable/customizable desk the best option.
The Right Approach is Incremental
The key to making meaningful changes to achieve a healthy, happy workplace is to take an incremental approach. Try one small change and see how it affects you, then move on to larger modifications to your daily routine. Adopting new practices slowly means you’re more likely to retain them over time, and when it comes to your health and happiness, it’s worth the time and effort. Remember, it’s never too late, so try one of these small changes today!