We spend about a third of our lives at work or school. Since we also spend about a third of our lives asleep, we only have a third of our day to connect with loved ones, travel to and from work, take part in the activities that we enjoy and look after our health. The truth is that we can look after our health all the time – from the time we spend at work to the time we spend in traffic. Today I want to look at a few simple, healthy habits that you can start doing to improve your everyday health – all while sitting at your desk during work.
1) Drink more water
Dehydration is likely to occur in situations where we are too focussed on a particular task to sense our physical need for hydration. Water is needed by every organ in your body, including your brain. The bloodstream needs sufficient water to carry nutrients to the organs and dispose of by-products, or chemicals which have performed their function in the body and need to be eliminated. Water helps the body to flush out toxins that could accumulate and can negatively impact your health. Dehydration not only hampers mental concertation and reduces the brain’s ability to cope with stress, but also leads to cravings for unhealthy things like nicotine and highly processed foods.
Keep a large bottle of water at your desk and take a big sip every few minutes. This will give your body the hydration that it needs to function optimally and detoxify itself. Try this for a few days and notice how much more you can focus on your work without needing a mental break. Your energy levels will also steadily increase as your health improves. The water will also help to flush out excess sodium, which will assist in decreasing blood pressure.
2) Eat some fruit
Another great way to increase your overall health is to eat wholesome fruit and vegetables at your desk. Most of us (including me) don’t particularly enjoy the taste of healthy fruit and vegetables, although we know how good they are for us. The good news is that when you eat something while focusing on another task, like work, you do not realise whether or not you are enjoying the food that you are eating. It becomes an automatic process. This is why it is so easy to overeat while watching TV – your brain is pre-occupied with something else and does not register what it is eating.
Aim to eat at least 5 servings of varied fruit and veg a day. If the idea of this many fruit and vegetables intimidates you, start with one or two and build up from there. Great food options could include carrots, apples, lettuce, tomatoes, bananas, or salads.
3) Practice deep breathing
If you look at a young child orpet sleeping, you will realise that their bellies move up and down when they breathe, instead of their chests. As we age, we get into the negative habit of shallow breathing. This decreases the amount of oxygen that enters our bloodstream – and shallow breathing can even decrease lung capacity over time. Learning how to breathe deeply during work is a great way to increase your oxygen intake – which will boost mental performance and give you a boost of energy – while learning to breather deeper automatically. Increased oxygen levels will give all your organs the energy that they need to perform at their best.
Pro tip: Did you know that your body uses oxygen to turn fat into energy?
4) Take brisk walks
Sitting for long periods of time has been linked to a variety of diseases. Being in the same position for too long is also bad for your posture and blood circulation. Get into the habit and standing up and stretching your legs every half an hour. The ‘drink more water’ tip might help you out here, because increased water consumption may increase your trips to the bathroom. This is a good thing because it allows your body to eliminate toxins, but also gives your muscles the movement that they need to stay healthy. A brief break in the length of optical focus will also benefit your eyes. Eye function diminishes when we spend too long focusing on the same distance – this leads to macular degeneration.
You can also do this by finding opportunities to speak to a co-worker in person instead of sending them an email. Many of us dislike unnecessary emails that could have been discussed with us in person. If you need to follow up with someone about a report you sent three days ago, go and speak to them directly. This may even increase your productivity because you will get an answer right away.
5) Practice positivity
Positivity is one of my favourite ways of reducing work related stress. Stress is actually good for you: it increases energy levels and primes your body for physical exertion. Too much of it, however, is unhealthy. If your body is always primed for physical output, it won’t enter into ‘rest and recovery mode’ where it recovers from the daily stresses that are placed on it. Many people struggle to get a good night’s rest because their high stress levels are telling the body that it needs to look out for oncoming danger.
If you are struggling with too much stress from work, you can reduce the amount of the stress hormone, cortisol, that your brain releases by learning to see your work in a more positive light. When we do something that we enjoy, our brains release a happiness hormone called dopamine. Dopamine has many benefits, like as increasing learning and memory, while too little of it can lead to depression and cravings for unhealthy habits.
A great way to see what you do on a daily basis in a more positive light is to tell yourself how much you enjoy something. You might not believe yourself at first, but your brain will start to recognise the positive statements as fact when you repeat them over and over. The more you tell yourself that you don’t enjoy something, the less you will enjoy it over time. The opposite is also true. Keep telling yourself what you want to feel and your brain will slowly learn to follow suit.