The Importance of Health in the Workplace

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Are you interested in becoming a healthier you? Do you find yourself drained after spending a day at work? Being healthier can significantly improve your quality of life, and research shows it increases workplace productivity and reduces the risk of diseases like diabetes and heart disease. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average American spends 44 hours (about 40% of their waking hours) each week on working and related activities; people who want to become healthier should begin thinking about health in the workplace.

The Commute.

The initial workday activity is the commute to your office. How could you make your daily commute to and from work healthier? One option is biking. At our Trackolade office in downtown Seattle, every employee bikes to work (and there is one wall in our office space devoted to storing all the bikes). For me, not only is biking to work a healthy option, it’s greener and smarter, too. I don’t have to deal with ridiculous rush hour traffic going into and out of downtown at peak hours, so it actually saves me time (about 20 min every day — almost 2 hours each week!). I also save the environment from toxic emissions.

Use this nifty bike-to-work calculator to figure out how many calories you burn, how much money you save, and how many pounds of toxic emissions you spare the earth.

If you ride the bus or the subway, you can get off at an earlier stop and walk the rest of your way to work. The same logic applies for if you drive to work – just park somewhere farther away from your office (or at least the far end of the parking lot) and walk the rest of that distance to work.

It’s also a great idea to use the stairs rather than the elevator to get up to your office. If you work on the 18th floor, don’t despair. Rather than trying to walk up all those stairs, take the elevator, but get off whenever the first person riding your elevator gets off and walk the rest of those stairs up.

The Workday.

Unfortunately, we have inadvertently designed the American workspace to be a fairly unhealthy environment. Sitting all day is generally a bad idea: it’s linked to worse mental health, a higher risk of death from heart disease, and you’re pretty limited to that one position for a long period of time. One solution to this problem is getting a standing desk. Purported health benefits are through the roof, from burning calories to lowering your metabolism and lowering your risk of death. One step up from using just a standing desk is a treadmill desk, which allows you to work all day while walking 10 miles comfortably. If a standing desk is not possible for you, a large workout ball to improve your stability and balance by keeping your core abdominal muscles engaged all day is another option to consider. This promotes better posture and protects the lower back (check out workwhilewalking.com for all sorts of great information and insightful reviews about treadmill and standing desks).

Some people don’t have the luxury or want to change how they sit and work all day. Some report that walking on a treadmill all day can be pretty distracting, as well as embarrassing if you have a workplace crush. However, there are other healthy practices one could partake in throughout the work day. Taking fitness breaks or walking during your lunch break are great ways to keep up your energy and move your body throughout the work day. I usually eat my lunch while working and then spend my half hour lunch break walking around downtown while on the phone with my mom. I love the Seattle weather and fresh air, and I get reenergized and refocused while being healthy. This certainly beats the alternative of sitting in the break room for a half hour and chugging coffee when I get sleepy midday.

Eating.

This brings us to our last point in healthy workplace habits – food and nutrition. Instead of spending this section talking about what you can be eating for lunch and for snacks (though I would recommend a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and not a lot of sugar), I’m going to tell you about how you can be eating. What I’m combatting here is the specific problem of overeating – many Americans also deal with undereating and/or eating disorders, which I don’t address in this article.

There is a great book by Brian Wansink called Mindless Eating that talks about food psychology and small, easy changes a person can make in her environment to eat a little healthier each day. It’s based on the idea that environmental influences secretly greatly affect how much food you eat. One finding from Mindless Eating is that food should always be kept out of sight. It is difficult enough not to eat all day long when you could be sitting around coworkers chomping on snacks, pelted by advertisements about happy hour truffle fries and half-priced doughnuts down the street. Avoiding that dish of chocolates that sits on your desk in front of you makes you all the more prone to overeating. Keep your snacks and your lunch in the fridge, in a drawer, and especially off your desk.

Eat your food on a plate. And eat it on a smaller-sized plate, if you can. The problem with eating food from plastic containers or paper bags or huge wrappers is that your brain is tricked into thinking you’re eating less than you actually are. You can’t see all the food you’re eating, or the container it’s in distorts how much is truly there. As soon as you put all that food on a plate, your brain can better understand how much you’re eating. Additionally, moving from a 12-inch to a 10-inch dinner plate leads people to serve and eat 22% less. The same logic works for drinks, too – you will be more satiated with less beverage when drinking from a taller, skinnier glass rather than a shorter, fatter glass.

When you eat snacks, try putting a set amount of food in a container or buying 100-calorie packs of your favorite snacks. By not eating straight out of a large bag of your favorite snack, but rather regulating how much you will eat before you even start eating, you will be much less likely to overeat.

What Works Best for You?

Whether it’s biking to work or eating your lunch on a smaller plate, there are many ways to tweak your routine to make each day a little healthier and still be able to live life as you wish to live it. As the days add up and turn into weeks and months of healthy activities, soon those actions will become habits that you don’t even think about. Becoming healthier is attainable for anyone – you just have to take the first step.

by Paige Blazei (Trackolade Summer Intern)

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