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The corporate worker’s guide to staying healthy
When it comes to office work, making healthy choices is essential for your long-term health. Here are some tried and tested tips from those who make it work every day. The key? Planning and commitment. Let’s do this!
You've probably heard the saying 'sitting is the new smoking' and for a corporate worker all this inactivity can be a real risk factor when it comes to maintaining good health. In fact, studies show that extended periods of time spent sitting can result in chronic back pain, cardiovascular disease, muscle deterioration, decreased productivity and even poor mental health. Couple your day of sitting at your desk with your time sitting during your commute, and add it to your regular couch time, and your sedentary lifestyle could lead to weight gain, poor cardiovascular health, weakened muscles, stiff joints, and even diabetes.
Staying healthy while you've got a desk job may not be easy, but it's not impossible either. The two key components: planning and commitment. When it comes to finding real-world advice you can use, what's better than talking to those who are making it happen in their own lives? We spoke to 15 office workers and compiled their best tips for staying well while holding down a desk job.
1) I stand up
It's a simple solution – but if the problem is sitting, then stand up! "When I sit down for too long I develop severe back pain," says Cam a copywriter who was in a motorcycle accident four years ago. "I use a standing desk to keep my spine straight and my muscles engaged throughout the day." Standing desks are becoming a lot more common and using one doesn't mean you have to stand up all day. In fact, it's best to add more standing to your workday gradually. Standing while you work does take a bit of getting used to – it might seem harder to focus while you stand, but you'll soon adjust. Standing up at work can also help you digest more easily after lunch.
2) I run at lunch
Squeezing in some exercise during the day is important for Aimee, mum-of-two who works as an office administrator. Working parents can find it especially hard to exercise before or after work, as that's when they're on family duty, so making time during office hours can be the only answer. "I requested to have a slightly longer lunch break and luckily my work can accommodate this. I run for about 40 minutes and then have a quick shower when I get back," says Aimee. "It generally means I have to eat at my desk, but I feel OK doing that after I've been away from it for my run. Plus, I'm so much more productive in the afternoons on the days that I run."
3) We work as a team
Ask around and you'll probably find your colleagues wish they could dedicate more time to their health, too. "My office does a 'minute' every hour, ideally. Whenever anyone thinks about it they say, 'Anyone want to do a minute?' and we all stop what we're doing and take a minute to do an exercise – whether it's lunges, squats, sit-ups or a plank," says Sanchia, an editor. "Plus, at about 10am and 3pm we do what we call a 'blocking' – that's a really quick walk around the block. It takes less than 10 minutes, but it's so invigorating. It's a great way to relieve the afternoon slump, have a quick chat with colleagues and clear your head."
4) I prepare on Sundays
Buying lunch everyday is not only expensive, but not always healthy. "I make salads on a Sunday and keep them in glass jars with screw top lids for the week ahead. Being prepared with fresh nutritious food saves me both time and money, and prevents me from reaching for calorie-laden snacks," says Amanda, a producer.
5) I hand deliver documents
Most big offices and hospitals have an internal mail system that delivers documents within the building to colleagues. "Rather than use the internal mail system, I hand deliver most of my internal mail. This can involve walking up and down four levels about four to six times per day – it's a lot of stairs!" says Rebecca, a busy mum and full-time nurse.
6) I walk, then bus
When it comes to fitting in more exercise, sometimes it's all about making more time during your commute. "On the way home, I walk the first half of my commute and then hop on the bus. That way I avoid standing in long lines waiting for the bus and miss sitting in awful traffic," says Christina, an art director. "I work in the Sydney CBD, so I walk over the Harbour Bridge and take a bus from neutral bay home. It relieves any stress from the day and I get in a great workout," she says.
7) I've found a passion
For some workers, squeezing in exercise is about finding something you love so you don't want to miss it. If you love it, you'll make time. "About a year ago I started swimming three to four times a week in an outdoor ocean pool," says Joanne, an architect. "Most pools open at some ungodly hour – and I love being there with other committed swimmers. Plus, when I'm in the pool, I hear nothing, I can't check my phone, and I can't be asked where the TV remote is for the 7,869th time! All I can do is focus on my breath and the underwater sounds. It has changed my life," says Joanne.
8) I take the stairs
Whether you're on the second, third or tenth floor, taking the stairs is an ideal way to improve your fitness and takes very little time out of your day. "I take the stairs to my eighth floor office every morning and lunch," says Sally, a designer. "It's a great way to fit in some fitness and give your lower body a workout."
9) I say no to treats
The thing about offices is there are always people bringing food in and offering treats. "I have an endless supply of food and treats," says Mal, a manager at a food company. "I've just made a decision to say no to all food left in the tea room at work, otherwise, I'd be eating unhealthy treats all day everyday," he says. "I had to draw a line or it would be out of control!"
10) I buy 10 apples
Another strategy to help beat the treats – apples! "I buy ten small apples at the beginning of every week and I have two each day," says Judy, a writer who works at home. "Otherwise it's too easy to dip into the cookie jar or grab a treat. But if I have apples ready to go, it's easier to make a healthy choice."
11) I park further away
Driving to work means more sitting. The solution? Don't drive all the way. "I park my car about fifteen minutes away from work," says Michelle, an executive assistant. "Not only do I get a good walk in before I arrive at work, but I get some time to unwind from the traffic before I start my day," she says. Michelle also fits in a gym class three to four times a week at 6am. "Plus, I've just finished six weeks of no white carbs, refined sugar or alcohol booze which wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, so I am going to try and maintain it Monday to Thursday," she says.
12) I go outside
On average, corporate workers spend approximately 90 per cent of their time indoors1, which can have a negative impact on your mood, stress levels and even your eyes. "I try to go for a 45-minute walk every day during my lunch break to unplug, de-stress and keep up my vitamin D levels," says Kristy, a graphic designer working in a fast-paced publishing environment. "I find it's a good way to break up the day and get a fresh perspective on a creative problem."
13) I shop every Monday
Not everyone has time to prepare meals after hours or on weekends, but there is another alternative. "I stop off at the supermarket on my way to work on Monday and buy ingredients for the rest of the week to leave in the fridge at work, like fruit, prepackaged salad leaves, canned tuna, cucumber and tomato or bread for sandwiches," says Kylie, an exercise physiologist. "I find it's usually quicker to prepare your own food at work than it is to walk out and purchase something from your local café. Plus, it's cheaper and eliminates the struggle of trying to find healthy take away options in a hurry."
14) I stand when I talk
The best way to combat the effects of a sedentary lifestyle is to always keep moving. "I try to stand on every second phone call," says Camille, a recruiter. "It doesn't always happen, but I use that as a goal so I'm not sitting still for too many hours at my computer with no movement. I also have a regular weekly Pilates session that is booked and paid for in advance so I actually have to make an effort to cancel it or I'll be charged – it's just easier to go. They're simple solutions, but they keep me going."
15) I wake up early
If you can't squeeze in an exercise session during your lunch break, waking up early to get it over with is the best solution. "I set the alarm for 4:30am so I can get to the gym at 5:00am and get it over and done with for the day," says Michael, a general manger at an engineering firm. "The great thing about working out in the morning is having a head start on those who haven't woken up and by 6:00am you feel like a million bucks because you've already accomplished something."
By changing your routine to incorporate some of these easy tips, you'll be able to make sure your working life is happier and healthier. Just remember: start off small, be disciplined and give yourself a chance to adjust. As long as you keep moving regularly throughout the day you'll be able to stop corporate life from having a negative effect on your health – and you'll find the extra activity may even help you sleep more soundly come bedtime.