I have been thinking about writing this article for a little while and then on Tuesday Alex sent me an e-mail with a blog about the same thing. While this blog has some good advice, there were several ideas that we came up with so this is an addendum to similar articles that have tackled the subject.
Seeing as we working people spend, at a minimum, 40 hours at work a week it is only reasonable that we should look at our habits there to see potential health problems. I work as an accountant and besides being the most exciting job ever, it also means I am like most Americans in being sedentary for the majority of the day. Here are ten tips for healthier habits in the workplace.
1. Start a water co-op
About a year ago I was sick of brining my own water to work to only run out half way through the day. I consulted my manager if it was alright that I ask my coworkers if everyone was interested in getting a water cooler and sharing the cost. After a couple of months of asking we got one, which is quite cheap to start and then everyone who drinks water chips in when the bill is due (plan one of the 5 gallon jugs per person per month). The other great aspect of this is that you might guilt trip your employer into paying for the water, which is what happened in my case. The other great thing about having a water cooler is the access to hot water, which you case use to make instant oatmeal, tea, coffee, but not instant ramen.
2. Start drinking more water:
Along with the water cooler, drinking more water at work helps in multiple areas. The first is proper hydration, which is always a good thing. The other aspect to think about is that this is a healthy reason to get up and walk and stretch while you’re at work. Getting up and walking over to the water cooler gets your muscles moving and helps to elongate your spine so it doesn’t become depressed. It also means you have to get up and go to the bathroom more, which you can look at as another reason to get up from you desk and get moving a little to break up the hours of sitting. You can mix up your water consumption too and have tea (try herbal or green to cut down on caffeine), coffee, emergen-C etc.
3. Set a stretch pop-up:
If you use Outlook at work (I am sure you can do this with gmail as well) you can set a pop-up to go off every hour with the simple message to stretch. I did this about three months ago and it is great for reminding me to at least stand up and stretch my back out a little, or I use this as a reminder to go fill up my cup with water. If you go to the calendar section of Outlook you can set a reminder to pop-up every day starting when you get to work, and then just dismiss it for an hour every time it pops up.
4. Walk to get coffee or at lunch:
I try to save money like everyone else, and I did this for a time by bringing my own coffee to work (which is a great way to save money), but now I try not to drink coffee until my morning break and then walk up the hill to starbucks or pete’s coffee to grab a cup with a co-worker. This gets me roughly 15 min of walking time away from my desk and I get to enjoy the caffeine buzz when I get back. Just make sure get coffee and not some sugary concoction masquerading as coffee, a venti drip coffee has 5 calories while a venti white chocolate mocha has 510 calories and 15 grams of fat. Similarly, if you can, use your lunch break, other then eating lunch (that you brought from home) to go for a walk around the building. You will be surprised how more alert you feel if you go for a twenty minute walk during lunch, that and the food will help you power through the rest of your day.
5. Walk / ride / park further away:
I recently started riding my bike to work and it has been the most rewarding experience. I don’t have to deal with rush hour commute, and feel more alert and awake when I get to the office in the morning. However, I understand that most people do not live close enough to work to make communing by any means besides a car practical, which is why you should start to park further away from work. Instead of taking the spot right next to the front door, park at the edge of the lot and walk all the way to the office, it’s not much exercise, but over the course of a year it can add up to hundreds of thousands of extra steps.
6. Use the stairs:
This is a basic one that gets mentioned a lot, but I thought I would repeat the advice. I try to use stairs in any building I go to, but I realize that many people either work on the first floor of a building or work on the 50th floor. If you work on the first floor, I am sure that you need to go to another department sometime in the day and use this as a way to play a little hooky and get some exercise. If you work on a floor that you cannot walk to without walking in dripping with sweat, make it a goal to walk up the first three –five floors and then take the elevator the rest of the way. If you are someone who gets to winded walking up the stairs, try making it a point to at least walk down the stairs at the end of the day. On a side note, I walk up the stairs in the morning, get coffee, take my lunch break, and walk down the stairs at night, all in all I go up and down 12 flights of stairs in a normal day but I am only on the third floor.
7. Get healthy with your co-workers:
There are at least 8 hours a day your away from your spouse or anyone else that knows you’re on a diet, which leaves plenty of time to cheat if you want. A great way to get around this is by telling your co-workers you’re trying to loose weight, as this will make you think twice about grabbing that cookie that’s in the break room when your co-workers can see you. Also you can try to get your coworkers to become health with you, I am currently in a bet with one coworker to see who can do 100 push-ups first and planning to run a 6.6 mile race with another. We all help each other to stay focused at work, and they kid me around when they think I want to eat something bad (such as friday’s doughnuts).
8. Identify unhealthy habits:
Really need that chocolate fix at three? Always have a soda after/with lunch? Find the times during the day you are most likely to snack or consume empty calories and try to change the habit. Take a diet soda to work instead of regular. Have a piece of fruit in the afternoon, or bring bit-sized chocolates with you that a portioned into reasonable servings. Don’t bring a bag of chocolate to work and think you are only going to have one, just leave the bag at home and bring one piece with you to satisfy your craving.
9. Bring your lunch and snacks from home:
This is a tried and true fact, and is mentioned in most other lists of healthy work habits. If you bring a lunch and snack food from home you are going to be eating significantly healthier food (without mystery contents) than most food places near your work will be offering. You don’t have to do it all at once, aim to bring lunch two days a week to start with and then increase it from there. If you are just not a brown bagger, that’s fine, but try to find healthier options (I know not everyone is a fan, but Subway is a healthy choice if you don’t add cheese and mayonnaise). Try to stay away from any type of fast food for example a plain hamburger, small fries, and small Classic Coke is 20g fat and 630 calories, and when was the last time you ordered just a regular hamburger? If you order this meal once a week for a year, you would be consuming 32,760 calories or the equivalent of 9.36 pounds…stick to the brown bag.
10. Start a company sports team:
There are softball leagues in every city, try to get coworkers to start a company team. I played softball on a company team, and it kept me accountable to show up and participate because I would be hounded at work the next day if I didn’t show up. Just make sure you’re not joining a beer league or you will just drink back the calories you’ve burned. You can also try to get different departments to complete against each other to foster corporate competitiveness and hey it never hurts to play softball with the boss to try and schmooze in the off hours.
You don’t have to do all of these, if you could implement only three, you will already be on the road to a healthier life. Just remember you’re going to spend roughly ten years of your life (in total hours) working, healthy habits at work can make a significant difference.