Working in an office can challenge every dimension of your wellness plan. Fortunately, there are plenty of practices you can adopt, skills you can develop, tools you can use, and resources you can consult to keep your wellness journey on track.
There’s a lot you can do, but here are the top seven office wellness solutions that should top your list.
1. Get Moving at Work
Some of the biggest problems you face when you work in an office all day are the indignities foisted upon your body by sedentary desk work. So your first solution is to get moving.
Your body evolved to walk, run, throw, climb, and otherwise move throughout the day. Every physical trait that you possess presumes that you will actively use it on a somewhat regular basis. When you don’t, your body rebels. In the short term, you feel low-back pain, you get headaches, you put on weight. Over the long haul, you’re at risk for sitting disease.
You really need to get moving. But moving in the office can be a challenge. Traditional office furniture and most ergonomic gadgets are designed to keep you stationary at your desk. Your office culture might not support your desire to move regularly during your workday. And some of the best solutions to your sedentariness problem are expensive, novel, and otherwise objectionable to some office facilities managers.
Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to incorporate movement into your workday, and you don’t have to upend your office culture or bust your budget to do them.
Standing. The ultimate office standing solution is an adjustable-height, sit-stand desk that lets you easily switch between sitting and standing throughout the day. If you don’t have the budget for a sit-stand desk, you can share a fixed-height standing desk with your colleagues or add a commercial or home-made desktop riser to your existing desk. You can hold standing meetings, stand up to take phone calls, or stand whenever you’re reading on paper or a tablet or other portable gadget. You can also stand up when anyone walks into your office. This not only gets you up off of your butt but also conveys enthusiasm and shows respect for your guest.
Walking. The ultimate office walking solution is a treadmill workstation that combines a standing desk and an office treadmill to let you work while you walk. Treadmill desks aren’t cheap, and they take up more room than a simple standing desk or a conventional desk, so they aren’t for everyone. But anyone can hold walking meetings, walk down the hall to talk with a colleague instead of emailing them, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park at the far end of the parking lot, or get off the bus or subway a stop or two early.
Fidgeting. The pioneering sitting-disease researcher James Levine discovered in one of his early studies that people who fidget and squirm burn a surprising number of calories. Depending on your level of fidgety-ness, you might try using an under-desk pedaling gadget, sitting on a stool or exercise ball that encourages movement, or simply changing positions on a regular basis.
2. Move Right
Unlike the natural movements we do out in nature, the computing, sitting, and other activities we do in the modern office can cause trouble if we don’t pay attention to them.
There are at least two solutions that can help you move right in the office.
Ergonomics tries to balance your comfort with your work productivity. Professional ergonomists study how efficiently and safely you get your work done. These pros can help you set up your office and advise you on which gadgets to get and how to use them. All too often, though, “ergonomics” is reduced to a one-time event that happens when you move to a new office or get a new computer. But you are using that gear and dealing with your work environment every day, so the best solution to your ergonomics problems is to learn to take charge of your own ergonomic set-up.
Posture and body-awareness practices can reconnect you with your body. It’s great to get lost in your work, but when you return to awareness and find your body contorted into a T Rex shape, it’s time to pay more attention to your posture.
3. Exercise More
Moving more and moving properly during your work day can mitigate your sitting disease risk and keep your joints limber, but you still need to exercise, too.
The benefits of regular exercise are well known and the details are too voluminous to enumerate here. Bottom line: The cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility that you get from an exercise regimen are associated with a longer, higher-quality life. In the short term, the vitality that carries over after your workout can help your work productivity. And the robustness that comes with regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of repetitive-strain injuries in the office. In the long run, you’ll live longer and suffer less disability.
A note on exercise and sitting disease: Sedentary office work and lack of exercise are two different problems. You can’t exercise your way out of sitting disease. Nor can you forego regular exercise because you walk on a treadmill desk all day. Regardless of how active you are at the office, if you aspire to true wellness, you have to regularly do vigorous exercise outside of work hours.
4. Eat Better
We all know that we should eat better. It’s hard enough to tackle the emotional, practical, and financial challenges of a sound nutrition plan in the best of circumstances. It gets really challenging when you face every day a break room full of donuts, deadlines that force you to eat fast-food lunches at your desk, and a daily routine that all too often involves skipping breakfast. And it certainly doesn’t help when most of food available to you comes from an industry that is hell-bent on selling you as much salt, sugar, and fat as it can.
The details of diet and nutrition go way beyond the scope of this publication and my expertise, but I’ll share here the best scientifically backed information that I can find on how to help you eat better.
5. Sleep Right
I have new clients fill out a health-history form when they come in for their first wellness massage. By far, the most commonly reported issue over the past 17 years has been “sleep problems.” News and research about the prevalence of insomnia, sleep deprivation, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders support the idea that we have plenty of work to do to improve our sleep.
We may have an “imperfect understanding” of sleep as a recent Scientific American article says, but it’s clear that it is important. Good sleep promotes wellness, memory formation, learning, and healing. Bad sleep patterns and sleep deprivation have been linked to immune-system suppression, weight gain, and depression.
I’ll share here the best information I can find on sleep hygiene, napping, and other practices and gadgets that can help you sleep right.
6. Manage Your Stress
Stress comes at you from all directions in the office. Whether you’re overloaded with work, feeling oppressed by 24/7 alerts from your computer and smart phone, or worrying about getting laid off, a desk job can push your stress levels off the charts.
This chronic stress can cloud your decision-making abilities, impair your memory, make you depressed, and even make you sick. In fact, WebMD claims that “75 to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.”
Fortunately, stress is a well known problem, and help is coming from many directions. You can tame your stress with practices like mindfulness, meditation, mind-body disciplines like yoga and tai chi, getting out in nature, doing enjoyable activities, or simply pausing now and then for a deep breath.
7. Design Your Environment
One classic stress-management tactic is to find ways in which you can exert some control over your environment. A well-designed, neatly organized work space can not only reduce your stress level but also promote productivity and otherwise enhance your well-being at work.
Depending on your work situation, much of your environment may be out of your control. Unless you are the boss or are self-employed, changing your furniture, the office layout, lighting, wall colors, and floor surfaces is probably not an option.
Still, there’s a lot you can do to design your own work space. At the very least, you can tame the clutter on your desk. You can also decorate your desk or cubicle to your liking. And you may also be able to improvise other office-design solutions. For example, if you don’t have the budget for proper adjustable-height sit-stand desk, you may be able to make or buy your own desktop riser.