By MJ Plaster
You might not know your work is killing you. I didn’t either until a couple of years ago when I stumbled upon the killer that we all have in common. If you work outside the house, you probably don’t eat as well as you could at work. You might even hate your job.
But neither of those is the No. 1 workplace killer. In fact, those of us who work at home are probably at greater risk because we may have fewer distractions than our office counterparts do.
What is the No. 1 workplace killer?
1. Sitting Kills.
Former NASA Director of Life Sciences Dr. Joan Vernikos made an amazing discovery. It began with observing and studying the changes in astronauts’ bodies due to inactivity and the absence of gravity.
In an interview with Dr. Joseph Mercola, she discussed the results of her observations and analysis. It is well worth the time investment to view the video or read the transcript. It shocked me into action, and it could do the same for you.
The conclusion of her years of research is not only that inactivity kills, but it is something that will surprise you. Being fit from exercise is one thing, but fitness is not enough. You must stand regularly throughout the day. How regularly? That depends on whether you are sitting or lying down.
From a sitting position, you need to stand up and move around at least once an hour. When you’re lying on the couch watching TV, you need to get up every 30 minutes. Better yet, get up at each commercial break (or scene break if you’re watching a commercial-free program).
Dr. Vernikos and Dr. Mercola agree that getting out of your chair and moving around at frequent intervals is no replacement for regular exercise. It is an adjunct to exercise.
Science Daily reports that Emma Wilmot, M.D., of England’s University of Leicester and her research team analyzed 18 studies and published the results in Diabetologia, the Journal of the European Association of the Study of Diabetes. The team concluded, “Sitting for protracted periods increases risk of diabetes, heart disease and death.”
You know that “sitting is the new smoking” has gone viral when you see ads such as this one that display several mainstream media headlines. When there’s science to back a meme and money to be made from it, it’s time to pay attention.
If you need help remembering to take a break, try the Pomodoro Technique, a simple method I began using last year. You set a timer for 25 minutes and work for 25 uninterrupted minutes—no emails, no phone calls, no nothing—just pure focused work.
When the timer goes off, you get a five-minute break. Every break gives you a chance to get up and move. If you need to return phone calls, stand up while you talk.
After four Pomodoros, you earn a 20-minute break—enough for some real exercise.
The amount of work I have completed since using the Pomodoro Technique has skyrocketed. Focus is a learned habit, so give the technique some time to work its magic. The usual caveat applies: Your mileage may vary.
Fitness as a lifestyle
We’re halfway through January, and many of the New Year’s fitness resolutions have fallen by the wayside. If that describes you, remember that there’s nothing magical about setting a resolution at the beginning of each year. You have 52 opportunities to start on a new resolution each week of the year.
If your workplace has a fitness program, you have a golden opportunity to improve your health. All you have to do is carpe diem—seize the day. Join a program or create your own.
If you start a workplace fitness program in your business, over time you can expect to see:
- Decreased absenteeism
- Increased health, happiness and well-being
- Lowered insurance rates (depending on your insurer, participation rate, etc.)
CheckWorks walks for health
Years ago, CheckWorks demolished one of the three lazy workplace habits when they held a contest to see which employee would walk the most each month. The same employee won every month. That was no fun for the other walkers, so CheckWorks changed the program.
Now all employees who walk 10 or more times each month, receive $5 on the first of the month. CheckWorks CEO Mary-Jo Uniack says, “It’s a small amount, but the winners like receiving it! I believe that every person is responsible for his or her own physical fitness. I hope that this program encourages our employees to get out and exercise, take a break, breathe fresh air, etc., but there is certainly no penalty for choosing not to participate.”
There’s a company chart to keep track of progress. Participation remains steady at 43 percent, with some change in walkers each month.
Exercise at your desk
Repetitive injuries abound in the workplace, and most of us just live with them. Try some of these exercises to break up your day and keep you fit.
- Hands and wrists: If you type all day, take the time to roll your wrists and wiggle your fingers before you start to feel aches and pains.
- Posture: Sitting all day slumped over your work in front of a computer monitor is disastrous to posture. If your mother always said, “Put your shoulders back,” or “Sit up straight,” take the advice to heart. Every time you think about it, check your posture. Try to make your shoulder blades meet for a few seconds and release. After you sit up straight, take a deep breath to the count of four, hold for the count of four, and breathe out for the count of four. Repeat a few times. You’ll feel instantly refreshed and calm.
- Neck and shoulders: Neck rolls are a lifesaver when your neck starts to ache. Slowly roll your head to the right, back, left and forward a few times as far as you can without pain. Then reverse the roll, starting with a roll to the left. Roll your shoulders forward and backward.
- Knees: My worst habit is sitting cross-legged at the computer. That is possibly the worst thing you can do for your knees. It’s a terrible habit and one that’s hard to break. Just stop it now. Your knees will thank you.
- Balance and flexibility: Try 10 air squats on your next break, but not if you have knee problems. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_VtOYc6j5c
- Cardio: Take a brisk walk around the building.
- Full routine: For a full lunchtime routine, check out The Washington Post’s workout.
Keep moving and break up repetitive tasks, motions, etc.
2. Eating Kills
It’s not about dieting—it’s about eating foods that increase health, well-being and the joy of living. Former dietitian Ayelet Kalter, R.D., M.Sc., explains in her bestselling book Mindful Eating: Free Yourself From the Diet Language how a change in language and a switch from a diet to a non-diet mindset can take healthy eating from a negative experience to a positive one.
Most Americans start the workday with a fast-food, drive-through meal or a glass of orange juice and a “healthy, whole grain” muffin or worse. That’s perfect timing for a mid-morning crash when employees trip over one another on the way to the vending machines.
If you start with a green/protein smoothie or a lean protein and healthy fat, your breakfast provides the fuel you need for a productive morning.
We can all agree that junk food and sodas are neither healthy nor nutritious. Yet that’s what people tend to grab when they’re hungry or need a temporary lift at work. All it takes a little forethought to bring healthy snacks to work each day or to keep nonperishable snacks in your desk drawer or locker.
If your workplace has a cafeteria, you’ll find at least a few healthy choices among the offerings. However, while you work on changing your habits, it’s best to avoid the cafeteria food and bring lunch from home.
Avoid luncheon meats. By now you’ve heard that the World Health Organization has said, “Processed meat ranks alongside smoking as a major cause of cancer.” Some experts disagree that the risks are as high as those associated with cigarette smoking, but smoking has become the handy yardstick by which everything is measured.
If you want to avoid the carcinogens in processed luncheon meats, cook an organic turkey breast, chicken breast, roast beef, etc., slice it “deli-thin” for sandwiches and freeze the leftovers. If you’re watching your weight, wrap it in a lettuce leaf.
A little creativity and planning go a long way toward eradicating our lazy workplace habits.
3. Mindset Kills
If you say, “I hate my job,” who’s to blame? We’ve all been there. The trick is to turn things around or to find or create a new opportunity. It might be as simple (not to be confused with easy) as changing your mindset from pessimism to optimism—a mindset reset. And the mindset change could help you to avoid becoming a Monday morning, 8:00 a.m. statistic—you know the one.
In Optimism and Its Impact on Mental and Physical Well-Being, a research paper posted on the National Institutes of Health site, the authors write, “It is apparent that optimism is a mental attitude that heavily influences physical and mental health, as well as coping with everyday social and working life. Through an adaptive management of personal goals and development and by using active coping tactics, optimists are significantly more successful than pessimists in aversive events and when important life-goals are impaired.”
Everyone has bills to pay, and many people have children to raise. But we don’t have to live a life of indentured servitude to pay the mortgage. If you hate your job, start by taking a serious look at why you hate your job.
For example, if the commute is killing you, negotiate a work-from-home agreement one or two days each week. If you can prove the same or better productivity, you might be able to turn your position into a four-day-a-week remote position.
If thinking outside the box and creative solutions don’t provide relief, it might be time to look for a new job or to create one. Personally, I don’t have the temperament to commute to work or work in an office environment. I have had to create every job in my adult life except one.
We’re all just going to die anyway, so why bother,” the pessimist would ask. Talk about a need for a mindset change! Don’t knock it until you try it.
Ridding yourself of these three lazy workplace habits opens avenues to clearing many bad habits and replacing them with good habits. We’re all different, and it takes some experimentation to find the right balance. Once you hit on the right mix of fitness, mindset and diet at work, you will incorporate those good habits at home. And then, as if by magic, many aspects of life change for the better.