How to Improve Your Overall Well-Being When You Sit at an Office Desk All Day
Until your winning lottery numbers come up, chances are you’ll be keeping that office job. And while there are definite perks — like gossip, work wives, and happy hours — you can probably think of a few things your workplace could do better to help with your overall well-being and health. Don’t resign: Redesign! Turn the place where you’re spending your nine-to-five from dismal to delightful by considering a few important pieces of advice.
1. Open up your office. Not everyone is a fan of open plan designs. (Do you really need to know Laura from Accounting’s verdict on The Bachelor from last night? Or that Darren from Finance is scheduling a vasectomy?) But before you retreat into your cubicle, know that a new study has demonstrated that people who work in open offices are more active than their closed-off counterparts. Published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, it found that people working on open benches were nearly a third more active than people secluded in private offices and about a fifth more active than people sitting in cubicles. Even if you’re not in the step-counting club, you might be interested to know that people who were active at work were also less stressed in their lives outside. So open up to the open plan (and consider some noise-canceling headphones).
2. Add a desk plant. Plants, your desk buddies who won’t steal your snacks or distract you when you’re on deadline, are more than just decoration. Caitlin Hoff, a Health and Safety Investigator with ConsumerSafety.org, an organization that informs consumers about health and safety news, points out that plants have been shown to have some surprising and promising health benefits: “Studies have found that indoor plants can improve your mood, reduce stress, and increase productivity.” She also explains that certain plants can filter toxins from the air, as shown in a 1989 study by NASA, whose roster of potential air cleaners included gerbera daisies, bamboo, and peace lilies. Although scientists are quick to point out that filling your office with plants is not a magic fix and you would need a lot of different types of plants to get the maximum effect, every little bit helps!
3. Find your peak coffee intake. As coffee drinkers who’ve had one too many espressos can attest, there’s a fine line between wired and can’t-keep-your-hands-still jittery. Luckily, scientists are interested in this problem too, with a study published in the journal Sleepfinding that the best way to stay alert is not with one big mug of coffee in the morning, but little, regular doses of caffeine throughout the day. The researchers gave their participants pills when they woke up and then every hour, half getting placebos and the other half caffeine pills containing 0.3 mg of caffeine per kilogram of their body weight (roughly equivalent to 2 oz of coffee, or a quarter of a regular cup). The participants who took the caffeine did better on cognition tests and were less likely to fall asleep accidentally. However, it’s worth noting that the experiment was designed for shift workers, keeping participants awake for 28.57 hours as part of a 42.85 hour day, and only studied cis men, so you’ll probably need to do a little trial and error to find your own caffeine sweet spot.
4. Don’t take the cake (sometimes). From birthdays to babies and, well, Mondays, there always seems to be some reason for dessert to magically appear in the office. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control found that over one week, over a fifth of the 5,222 adults surveyed either bought or were given food at work, adding up to an average of 1,277 calories per person. So are we meant to turn down free cupcakes? Kristen Smith, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says not necessarily, but recommends being mindful and coming prepared. “Just because free food is there doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Keep your desk stocked with nutrition-packed foods that you look forward to eating, such as dark chocolate, veggie chips, nut mixes, or dried fruit.” It’s more about balance than always saying no. “People who deprive themselves of foods they desire often end up overindulging later,” Smith reminds. “Allow yourself to enjoy a portion-controlled amount of the sweet treats in your office once or twice a week.” Save your sugar splurge for when you really need it: There will be more cake tomorrow!
5. Check your posture. If you just straightened up when you read that, it’s likely that your posture at the office could use some work. Studies have found that slouching over desks can make neck and back pain worse. But what should we be aiming for? “Even shoulders that are not rounded or hiked up, a neutral neck with no tilt and the head not jutting forward, elbows bent at 90 degrees, and feet flat on the floor with knees bent at 90 degrees,” recommends Kelsey Zamoyski, an occupational and hand therapist who owns Defy Therapy & Wellness. And how do we get there? Hoff says we need to make an active effort: “If you want to improve your posture, you need to practice good posture. There are many ergonomic tools on the market to help you sit correctly, like lumbar cushions or footrests. Analyze your posture and figure out where your biggest faults lie. If you aren’t sure, consider consulting a physical therapist or chiropractor; not only can they help you choose the right tools, but they can also give you exercises to strengthen supportive muscles.”
6. Take a break. We’re not talking scrolling through Brit + Co (although we’re always here for your self-care). You need to give your eyes and body a total break from hunching over a screen, explains Zamoyski. “Ideally, you need a five-minute break to stretch every hour, but if your schedule is tight, set an alarm two to three times a day,” she advises. She also has a few exercises to make that rest time even more effective. “If possible, stand up from your computer, lift your arms to shoulder level, and do 10 shoulder rolls and circles in each direction. Open and close each hand 10 times. Squeeze your shoulder blades together 20 times. These quick exercises help reduce the risk for conditions like carpal tunnel and shoulder tendonitis.” It will be worth any stares from your colleagues in the long run!
What’s your best office health tip? Copy us in @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty)