The headlines about our workplace’s negative affect on our health are everywhere…
“Sitting is the new smoking” is a popular one.
“How the workplace contributes to America’s expanding waistlines” is another.
I’m sure you’ve read enough about ideas like a standing or treadmill desk to combat these issues, so we won’t be talking about that here at all. If you’re looking for some simple and practical tips you can start using today to stay healthy at work, then you’ll love this infographic.
Here’s a quick summary of the top tips on how to stay healthy at work:
- Make hydration benchmarks throughout the day
- Automate reminders to get out of your seat
- High five coworkers
- Reward task completion with a healthy snack
- Rejuvenate with a walk
- Positive psychology for positive physiology
- Recharge with a lunchtime nap
- Take the long way
- Stretch it out
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How to Stay Healthy at Work: A Breakdown of All 9 Hacks
1. Make hydration benchmarks
Like any other goal, your mission to stay hydrated becomes more easily attainable when you break it into small, specific tasks you can start tackling immediately.
Your mind (and your bladder) might be daunted by the challenge of chugging 64 ounces of water a day…but drinking 8 ounces of water every few hours, on the other hand, sounds perfectly manageable.
We found this awesome trick to drink enough water throughout the day from Chris Freytag at Get Healthy U.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Buy a Nalgene or a water bottle from a department store or online retailer.
Step 2: Draw markers on the outside indicating how much water you need to drink by certain times of the day, working your way down the bottle from morning to night.
Step 3: Drink water past those lines by the time you specified.
Here’s a visual representation of this hack from Chris’s site:
Before you know it, your hydration routine will flow naturally (no pun intended).
Hydration is a simple thing that provides an array of benefits.
According to the American Heart Association,
“keeping the body hydrated helps the heart more easily pump blood through the blood vessels to the muscles. And, it helps the muscles work efficiently.”
And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list these benefits to guzzling the good stuff:
- Aids efficient temperature regulation
- Helps joints function smoothly
- Guards tissues and the spinal cord
- Helps rid your body of waste
2. Automate getting out of your seat
Workplace distractions challenge your best intentions.
You resolve each morning to get up and move around more when you’re at work, only to fall victim to emails, deadlines, last minute tasks, and a barrage of other items stampeding through your day with a false sense of urgency. Even when confronted by unimportant “urgencies,” your best intentions evaporate.
You’ve heard that “sitting is the new smoking“, but how do you actually ensure you’re getting out of your seat enough times throughout the day?
Fortunately, you can easily train yourself to beat this mentality and stop letting looming busy work overpower your physical needs. Set a calendar reminder for every 30 to 60 minutes saying,“Get up and move!”
Walk to the water cooler, get some fresh air, go chat with a coworker—do anything to get out of your seat and get some steps in.
But the good news is that the risks of sitting seem to roll off people who balance their sit time with high levels of activity.
Bonus Hack: Work in Pomodoros. I use this free online Pomodoro timer to work for 25 minutes and then I take a 5 minute break at the end of each Pomodoro. This helps me not only work better and with more focus, but also “forces” me to take regular walking breaks.
You need to! The risks of sitting have been well documented by a variety of researchers.
One expert writing a question and answer post for Mayo Clinic outlines the health risks of too much sitting. They include:
- Elevated blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Excess body fat
- Cholesterol levels
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Increased risk of cancer
Furthermore, sitting doesn’t care about other stats. The risks of sitting for 8+ hours a day look startlingly similar to the risks of smoking and obesity, regardless of the person’s actual body weight and smoking status.
3. High five co-workers
Remember that feeling you used to get in gym class when you cleared the bases in a serious game of kickball and your teammates gave you a high five?
Or the simple boost you would get when just walking down the hallway and someone slapped you five for absolutely no reason?
Why did we ever stop doing that?
High fives release oxytocin (known as the “trust hormone”) and reduce the stress hormone cortisol. Positivity can also help reduce stress levels and improve physical and mental resilience. Instead of the typical “hello” when passing by a coworker, give them a high five.
If you’re looking to kick it up a notch, try the “Epic High Five”:
If someone impresses you with a job well done, give them a high five. Actions speak louder than words and a high five says it all.
An added bonus: you’re less likely to spread germs than you would through shaking hands. Just try not to smile when someone gives you a high five. It’s impossible.
4. Reward task completion with a healthy snack
Even people engaged at work face mountainous tasks that just seem impossible. Give yourself a boost by rewarding yourself with something healthy to eat when you complete a long task.
You’ve heard the phrase “stress eating”, which is basically using food as a way to cope with something difficult or stressful. Over time this becomes a habit, especially during working hours where you’re often the most stressed out.
Author Charles Duhigg explains more about habits in his book The Power of Habit. He breaks down every habit loop into a sequence of 3 events:
- A cue – a trigger that tells your brain to go into autopilot for a specific habit (for the example of stress eating, this would be the feeling of stress)
- A routine – the action you take after the cue (going to the pantry)
- A reward – the benefit for taking the action (eating something loaded with sugar that releases dopamine, i.e. the pleasure chemical, in your brain)
While most people will focus on trying to change the routine, focusing on improving the cue and reward will actually help you improve the routine.
So we propose the next time stress hits at work, tell yourself that you’re going to get through this task and then reward yourself with something healthy (and tasty).
Not only will the dangling carrot make your tasks more pleasant, but choosing a healthy snack will also improve your overall health, curb your cravings, elevate your mood, and boost your brainpower.
5. Rejuvenate with a walk
Never underestimate the power of a power walk…especially one combined with multi-tasking.
Our modern lifestyles have us all in quite a dilemma: we have lots of important work to do, but at the same time, health experts say we should squeeze in about 10,000 steps a day.
How can you possibly cram all of that into your busy day?
Take some of your tasks on the road.
You undoubtably have meetings on the phone several times a week, if not several times a day. Instead of taking every call at your desk and adding to the time you’re spending in your chair, pop in your earbuds and go for a walking meeting during your call with a client, a vendor or a colleague
Walking while on a call can improve your confidence too, so it can be a great way to close a deal.
Walking can also boost your creativity and help you come up with new ideas. Stanford researchers uncovered a compelling correlation between walking and creativity. Walking inside and outside helps people generate ideas both during the walk and after the walk ends.
If you are feeling especially motivated about your health in the office, fitting in a quick workout during your lunch hour can help you feel energized the rest of the day.
Here are some other ideas for getting in your daily steps, even when your job requires you to sit for hours:
- Walk over to talk to people instead of calling or Slacking them. If you do this every time you need to talk to someone, then the steps could definitely add up.
- Walk in place.
- Get up and do steps any time you have to read something.
- Do laps when you’re trying to come up with a new idea or figure something out.
- Volunteer to help deliver mail or memos.
- Start a walking club so others can keep you accountable for walking every day.
6. Positive psychology for a positive physiology
Practicing gratitude can have a positive impact on your mental health. By spending some time each day finding things you have to be grateful for, you’re training your brain to look for positivity.
If you partake in this daily practice, you’ll be delighted to know that there are additional benefits. Mental health professionals discovered practicing gratitude can benefit your physical health too by boosting your immune system, helping you manage stress, and more.
To benefit the most from your gratitude, make it a habit through focused practice. Plan to write down at least three things you’re grateful for when you get to your desk every single morning.
Like we outlined in section #4, use a good reward system to form new habits. Here’s a good way to form the daily practice of gratitude:
- Cue = You arrive to work and sit down at your desk
- Routine = Write 3 things you’re grateful for
- Reward = Enjoy a warm cup of coffee or tea
Follow that technique and you’ll have this daily habit nailed in no time!
7. Recharge with a nap during lunch
We realize most workplaces frown upon desktop napping, so you’ll have to get sneaky about where you catch your Z’s to practice this workplace wellness tip.
Naps have been shown to reduce stress and bolster your immune system…two things that generally tend to be aggravated and weakened in the workplace.
Even a short, 20 minute nap yields tons of benefits…and you can add it to the list of things you do in your trusty old car.
If you have a 45 minute lunch break, here’s a way to get something to eat AND fit in a short nap:
- Use 25 minutes to eat (this is a possible to do if you bring your own lunch to work or have some good places to eat nearby your office)
- Use the other 20 minutes to take a refreshing nap in the passenger seat of your car
You’ll feel alert at work, and that 3 o’clock slump will roll right off you like water on a waxed car.
8. Take the long way
Remember those 10,000 steps a day we mentioned earlier? Well, this workplace wellness habit gets you a little bit closer to that lofty goal.
Park your car in the spot furthest away from the door to the office. This will force you to add a couple extra steps throughout your day.
Those little steps add up as you walk to and from the office, and remember, it’s more than you were doing before. Not to mention the extra walking will give you some more time to clear your mind and set your intentions for the day.
Think about other ways you can use simple hacks like this to add some extra steps to your day. Here are some examples:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Only fill your water bottle up 1/4 of the way so you walk to the water cooler a couple of extra times throughout the day
Obviously, riding a bike or taking public transportation would be an even better way to get some exercise in on your way to work, but for many, that’s just not feasible given their commute.
9. Stretch it out
Sitting at a desk and typing for the majority of the day can cause all sorts of aches, pains and strains on your body.
Try the 3 simple stretches below when you feel the pain coming on. They’ll give you immediate comfort and protect against long-term damage.
Stretching also provides a variety of benefits, as reported by Prevention Magazine, that can’t be ignored.
- It speeds up blood-flow throughout the body and makes you feel awake and invigorated
- It might help you increase your balance skills and avoid awkward falls
- It loosens you up to be able to make the most of your workout
- It might help regulate blood sugar levels
Plus, the movement of a special stretch might be just what you need to break up a long session of sitting.
You can do the movements sitting down, and we promise your coworkers won’t judge you—they might just follow your cue and join in!
- Place your left hand over the fingers of your right hand. Bend your wrist down slowly until you feel a light stretch. Hold for about 5 seconds and relax. Repeat 3 times, then alternate to bending upwards.
- Drop your head down slowly towards one shoulder until you feel a stretch. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 3 times on each side. This should release the tension in your head and neck from a day of buildup.
- While exhaling, lean forward, drop your head towards your knees and let your hands drop towards your ankles. Hold for about 5 seconds. Then inhale and bring your head up slowly, reversing the movement you made going down. Repeat 3-5 times. Don’t be alarmed if you hear some cracks and pops—that’s totally normal and totally good.
Bonus Ideas! Here are some other things to consider when you want to stay healthy at work:
- Take regular mindful meditation breaks; mental health is just as important as physical health.
- Eat a serving of fruits or vegetables before you eat anything else.
- Practice controlled breathing to energize yourself and maintain composure
Choosing healthy snacks instead of salty, processed edibles
By implementing just a few of these hacks, you can make it a lot easier for yourself to stay healthy at work. For more ideas on how to stay healthy at work, check out this list of 8 No-Excuse Habits for a Healthier Workday from Total Wellness Health.
What other hacks do you use to ensure you’re being proactive about health in the workplace? Let us know in the comments below.