6 ways to be happier and healthier at work
For those lucky enough to find the perfect job, the office can provide no end of fascinating insights and opportunities to grow – all of which help you feel confident, appreciated and give you a great reason to get up in the morning. And even if your career is not ‘the dream’ you know you’d miss the great people you meet and the sense of purpose work provides.
But despite these benefits, your working environment can be a poor-health hotspot, with stress, germs and sedentary behaviour causing a range of problems for your wellbeing. And that’s definitely not what you’re getting out of bed for! Given that many of us spend an average of almost seven hours a day in work, it makes sense that we look after the space that surrounds us and make the time spent there as healthy as possible. We asked six leading experts for their tips on avoiding the 9-5 pitfalls…
1 Resist food traps
Nutrition coach Madeleine Shaw says:
If you normally…
… run out for coffee and pastries mid morning
Have a protein-based breakfast such as scrambled eggs or quinoa porridge. It’ll keep you fuller for longer, preventing that 11am caffeine and sugar craving.
… eat take-out lunch, at your desk
Two things; even if you can only take a short lunch, have it somewhere else – a new location will invigorate your mind meaning you perform better. And if you can, bring a packed lunch. Homemade food will not only save you money but is more likely to be made with healthy, considered ingredients.
… can’t resist ‘Cake Friday’
Reach for a healthy snack while others tuck in. Think plain popcorn, fruit, nuts and seeds, veggie crudités, oatcakes or raw energy balls.
2 Tackle stress
Professor Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at the University of Manchester, says:
Pressure at work is stimulating and motivating, but too much is certainly a problem; stress accounts for 35 per cent of all work-related ill-health cases. You know when you’re stressed – irritability, aggression, losing your sense of humour or confidence and becoming withdrawn are common symptoms, but our bodies can be affected to. Physical symptoms might include gastrointestinal problems, disturbed sleep, headaches, over or under eating.
If you’re under chronic stress, talk to a friend or colleague to get to the root cause. It might be a bullying boss, a long-hours culture or an unclear role. Once you know, brainstorm ways to deal with it. List your options. They might include leaving the job, switching departments, or taking things up with your boss or HR manager. There may not be a perfect solution, but pinpoint the one with the least cost and most benefits to you.
3 Check your posture
Chiropractor Alex Horne says:
Slumping at a desk all day causes neck and shoulder pain, tension headaches, lower back issues, sharp pains in the ribs or mid back, general stiffness and joint weakness. To counteract it:
- Tuck your chin in, to bring your neck over your body
- Drop your shoulders
- Palms up (when not typing), to open shoulders and chest
- Lower back straight (not too arched or rounded)
- Knees lower than the waist
- Feet flat on floor
Top tip: take frequent, two-minute moving breaks – our brains activate during movement (tell your boss it’s better for productivity).
4 Do a workplace workout
Fitness trainer and author Julia Buckley says:
According to the campaign Get Britain Standing, sitting for more than eight hours a day doubles risk of heart disease. And because it contributes to weight gain, it’s also linked to heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Try these ways to sneak exercise into your day:
- Drink plenty of water – to force you to get up and go to the ladies more often!
- Never use your hands and arms when you get up out of your chair. This activates and strengthens leg muscles.
- Bored in a meeting? Pulse your glutes without anyone noticing. Do the same with your abs: exhale hard, pull belly button towards your spine, hold, inhale, repeat.
- If you’re standing still for any length of time, get up on tip-toes. This works your calf muscles, shaping your legs and engaging your core.
- Work the upper back and release tension by imagining you’re squeezing a pen between your shoulder blades. Then lift and lower them.
- Have an active lunch break – hit the gym, try a class, go for a run or walk.
5 Clean up your act
Dr Lisa Ackerley, leading hygiene expert, says:
A University of Arizona study found workspaces can harbour 400 times more microbes than a toilet seat, so wash your hands frequently, particularly after getting off public transport and before eating. If you share desks, use antibacterial wipes each morning, and use antibacterial gel if you have to shake a lot of hands. Try not to eat at your desk; crumbs tend to settle in keyboards and cause bacteria to grow.
6 Look after your eyes
Specsavers clinical spokesperson, Dr Nigel Best says:
Staring at a computer screen all day = aching, dry eyes and headaches.
- To relax eye muscles, reduce time spent viewing near objects (like screens or paperwork).
- Break for 10 minutes for every hour of concentrated near-vision. Focus on objects further away.
- For dry eyes use lubricating drops or sprays.
- There’s no evidence long-term screen use damages vision, but employers are obliged to provide and pay for sight tests for screen-using employees. If you need glasses specifically for screen use, they must contribute to the cost.