Spending an average of 40 hours per week at work can be physically and mentally draining, but the workplace can also be unhealthy in other ways as well.
Sitting or standing for long periods of time can cause pain and other adverse effects, and there can also be nutritional traps, such as vending machines, that could contribute to weight gain.
But experts say there are numerous things people can do to make their workplaces healthier. The following pages feature simple tips for keeping healthy at work.
|Take a Walk in the Park|
Leave the cubicle or the office and experience nature, advised Dr. Marc Berman, a post-doctoral research fellow at Rotman Research Institute in Toronto.
In research published in the journal Psychological Science in 2008, Berman and a team at the University of Michigan found that people improved their working memory span by about 20 percent after a 50-minute nature walk. Working memory is a crucial psychological function for work and job-related activities.
He said the results were similar when participants were asked to view pictures from nature for 10 minutes.
The idea: we have two forms of attention -- directed and involuntary. In the workplace, employees use directed attention that is finite and depletes leading to mental fatigue. During a nature walk, stimulation and the evironment capture our involuntary attention, which research suggests may allow for directed attention, which we use to do our jobs, to recover.
Berman shared these tips with ABC News:
Be aware of mental fatigue, which is a signal that you should take a break.
Take a "true break" and don't surf the Web or play on your Blackberry. If you don't have an actual park, stroll along a quiet, calming street.
Bring the nature to you. Have pictures of nature in your office or get a plant. Also having a window, if there's a bit of nature outside, can lead to greater productivity.
|Surf the Web -- No Really|
After you take that stroll, spend some time cruising the web. Experts are now encouraging employers to lighten up when cracking down on workers' Internet access, thanks to a recent study.
Researchers at the National University of Singapore discovered that web browsing rejuvenated exhausted employees and boosted their productivity. The results were shared earlier this month at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management in San Antonio, Texas.
In an experiment that observed 96 students broken into a control group, a "rest-break" group and a Web-surfing group, those who were allowed to use the Internet during 10 minutes of leisure were found to be more productive and effective at their tasks. According to scientists, they also reported less mental exhaustion and boredom.
In an email to The Wall Street Journal, which reported on the study, Dr. Vivien K.G. Lim said that people surfing the Web "usually choose to visit only the sites that they like -- it's like going for a coffee or snack break."
|Make Desk Area a Mini-Gym|
If there's available space, desks and other office furniture can double as exercise equipment.
"Utilize your office furniture," said Leah Britt, a personal trainer and clinical nutritionist at Premier Fitness Camp, a fitness resort in Park City, Utah. "You can do dips using the chair or the edge of the desk. Place your hands on the edge and bend arms to slowly lower yourself about six inches lower than the seat. Then, raise yourself by straightening your arms. Repeat this three times a day for 10 repetitions."
Britt also suggests doing push-ups on the floor or using the desk by leaning against it and pushing yourself away. You can also perform a set of 10 squats about three times a day.
Other ways to turn your workspace into a workout space?
"Keep a small set of dumbbells or resistance bands under your desk," Britt said. "You can use them while you're on the phone."
She also suggests sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair, which will help posture and keep the abdominal muscles tight.
While sitting at a desk for long periods of time may seem like a good way to stay productive, experts say it's very unhealthy.
"You need to take breaks every hour or two to get up and move," said Luis Feigenbaum, chief of service and director of sports physical therapy at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. " A lot of low back conditons happen from just sitting for a long period of time. The muscles get weak."
Email and other office technologies are undoubtedly convenient, but delivering messages the old-fashioned way, while it may be more time-consuming, is a much healthier option.
"Delivering messages or packages to people in person is a great way to get in extra steps," said Britt. "It also helps to walk to the furthest bathroom and take the steps more often."
Setting an alarm to remind yourself to get up and walk around is also a simple and effective strategy.
And meetings don't always have to take place inside the office.
"If it's possible, try walking meetings," said Beth Thayer, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "Maybe the two of you can go for a walk while meeting."
|Watch Your Posture|
"The number one thing that gets people into trouble as far as a downgrade in their health is their posture," said Feigenbaum.
He noted that certain ergonomic changes can really make a difference:
Sit close to the work station.
Keep monitors at eye level.
Keep the keyboard (or the steering wheel, if the job involves driving) at a level that doesn't require too much reaching and isn't too high or low.
Sit with legs flexed at a 90-degree angle with feet resting comfortably on the floor.
Lift objects with the legs and keep the object close to the body and toward the middle of the trunk.
He also recommends strengthening muscles involved in posture -- including the abdominals, the muscles attached to the back of the spine and the gluteals -- to avoid injury to the muscles of the neck, lower back, arms and legs.
It's important, he said, to maintain a balance between stretching and strengthening muscles.
"When muscles are weakened because of poor posture, what typically occurs is that the opposing or opposite muscle group becomes tight. So the balance comes in making sure that the tight muscles are stretched and the weak muscles become strengthened."
Helpful exercises include shoulder squeezes, back bends, walking,and tightening and contracting the buttocks.
The workplace is often full of tasty temptations, such as vending machines and celebratory desserts. While responsibilities at work and at home make it difficult to find time to plan meals and snacks for work, experts strongly recommend it.
"I recommend packaging and preparing our own meals," said Thayer. "Anytime you can prepare your own, it will be healthier and cheaper."
"It's really important to eat at least every four hours," she added. "You need to make sure you're setting some time aside to make sure you're getting food in."
It's difficult to avoid hitting the vending machines or indulging in a tasty treat in the office, but it helps to have pre-portioned snacks on hand.
"Small bags of nuts or snack mix you make yourself, or a small bag of fruit like apples or grapes," suggested Thayer. "Fruit works well for people who drive a lot." Keeping big bags of snacks can lead to mindless eating.
It's also important to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and to keep muscles healthy.
"Bring a couple of bottles of water and try to finish them before leaving," Thayer said.
|Practice Good Hygiene and Food Safety Techniques|
A new survey by the American Dietetic Association found that 62 percent of Americans eat lunch at their desks, 50 percent snack at their desks, and 27 percent eat breakfast at their desks.
Multitasking during lunch is very common, but it can also be dangerous. Experts say lots of hidden bacteria lurk on desktops.
"We need to wash our hands and clean up the area after we eat at our desks," said Thayer. "Don't let desks become places for bacterial growth." The desktop should be treated the same way as a kitchen countertop or kitchen table.
Another way that foodborne illnesses can infiltrate a workplace is by not properly storing food at the proper temperatures.
"Hot foods have to stay hot, and cold foods have to stay cold," Thayer said. "Make sure there's a refrigerator or an ice pack to keep food cold, and make sure you heat food up to the appropriate temperature."
The American Dietetic Association recommends food be re-heated to a temperature of 165 degrees. Thayer suggests having a thermometer on hand to be safe.
If the work area can be kept clean, Britt, the personal trainer and nutritionist, says it's a good idea to eat lunch there.
"I think you should utilize lunch breaks," she said. "Give up the office break, eat at your desk and exercise during that time if you can. Bring workout shoes and clothes -- if you use your lunch break, that's key."