According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most employed Americans spend an average of 8.8 hours working each weekday. Depending on your profession and other variables such as vacation time and sick days, many of us will spend close to 20 percent of our lives working at our jobs.
Although we spend so much time at our workplaces, however, many of us do not pay much attention to how healthy our work environments are. In fact, while we may keep our homes neat and clean, we do not pay much attention to the state of our desks, thinking nothing of placing food down amongst our files or not bothering to wipe off our computer keyboards or screens. And while we may pay close attention to what we eat in our off-hours, we often tend to grab whatever’s handy while we are working. In addition, whereas you may stand tall the rest of the time, you might be surprised at how lax you have gotten about your posture while you are at your desk.
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Some small changes in your workplace habits could make a big change in your overall health. Here are five ways you can have a healthier work environment.
Tips for a healthier workplace
Move more. Movement can make a big difference in how you feel, and when you feel better you can be more productive at work. Do you need to spend large amounts of your time at a computer? It’s important to take short breaks throughout the day. Plan to get up and stretch for a few minutes at least once per hour.
Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are at a 90-degree angle to your torso. Now look at your computer screen. Adjust it so that top edge of the screen is at eye level and tilt it slightly upward towards your eyes. Adjust your keyboard so that your elbows are at a right angle when you are typing.
Other ways to sneak more movement into your workday are:
- use the stairs whenever you can
- stop by a co-worker’s office rather than sending an e-mail
- take a walk at lunchtime
- park further away from your office or get off public transportation one stop before your regular stop and walk the rest of the way
- do simple stretches or walk around your desk area while you are on the phone
Make wise food and drink choices. Reduce the impulse to snack on fast food or vending machine-type snacks by bringing healthy options to work with you. Pack fresh or dried fruit, nuts and seeds or crunchy vegetables such as carrots or celery to munch on when you get hungry.
Keep plenty of fresh water handy throughout the day. Resist the urge to grab another cup of coffee or a can of soda and choose water instead. Keeping well hydrated can help you function better and can reduce your likelihood of getting a headache. A growing body of research links dehydration with headaches. For example, in a study published in Neurology magazine, scientists divided migraine sufferers into two groups. The first group was given a placebo medication to take regularly, while the second group was told to drink six cups more than their usual daily intake of water. At the end of the two weeks, even though the researchers found that the water group had increased their water intake by only four cups a day, they experienced a decrease in the intensity of their headaches and an average of 21 fewer hours of pain during the study period than those in the placebo group.
Get outside. If you grew up with a mother who shooed you outside to “get some fresh air’ whenever she could, she was right. Many of our office environments feature tightly sealed windows and doors that are great for energy efficiency but not so great for our bodies and our brains.
According to the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, spending just 30 minutes in the sun can provide you with a day’s supply of vitamin D through skin absorption. In addition to helping your bones stay healthy, Vitamin D may also reduce your risk of other diseases, including type 1 diabetes and heart disease. Sunlight also can help people with autoimmune conditions such as lupus and psoriasis.
Breathing fresh air instead of recycled office air helps to clear your lungs and to increase oxygen flow throughout your body. Increased oxygen in your body translates to more energy and clearer thinking. In fact, participants in a 2010 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, reported feeling happier and healthier after they spent time outside.
Look for ways to add some “air time” into your workday. Could a staff meeting be held outside on a nice day? Could you eat your lunch outside or near a sunny window?
Clean up. You don’t need to be a germaphobe to realize that your phone, your computer screen, your keyboard and your whole desktop can get pretty dirty. Make a once-a-week thorough cleaning of your workspace part of your routine. Manufacturers do not recommend the use of all-purpose cleaners, which contain alcohol, ammonia and other solvents, on LCD screens. There are a variety of wipes created just for this purpose, or try a soft microfiber cloth to get the dust off the screen and a soft cloth dampened with distilled water for removing dirt and fingerprints. For stubborn grime, try a 50-50 mix of white vinegar and distilled water.
Wash your hands. Maybe a poster on hand washing has been hanging in your workplace restroom so long that you don’t even notice it anymore, but hand washing is a key part of staying healthy in a busy work environment. One of the most common ways we pick up cold and flu viruses is by touching a dirty surface and then transferring the germs to our face. A study conducted by the University of California – Berkeley found that student participants touched their eyes, nose or lips up to 104 times over a three-hour period.
By keeping your hands clean, you can reduce your chances of getting sick. And don’t be too quick at that sink! Health experts recommend that you wash your hands with soap and water for about the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thorough hand washing helps to prevent stomach and respiratory infections and may help prevent skin and eye infections.
Finally, be aware of when you need a break. Mental fatigue and stress can cause physical symptoms. And do yourself a favor by taking a real break; don’t just play games on your phone. Get up, move around, rest your eyes and breathe. You’ll be all the better able to get back at the project that awaits you with a little better frame of mind.