Did you know that the average American works more than a standard full-time job? It’s true: According to a recent Gallup poll, American workers spend 47 hours per week on the job — and that’s not even counting your commute. When you add all of that time together, it turns out that you’re spending almost as many waking hours at the office as you are in the comfort of your own home.
So if half of your (conscious) life is spent at work, it becomes crucial to make sure that your office environment supports a healthy lifestyle. It’s not enough to eat well at home if your workplace is sabotaging your efforts with candy at every turn. When you make sure you’re able to maintain healthy habits during your work day, your body and mind will reap the benefits, and you’ll have more energy to burn doing things you love when you’re away from your desk.
To give your work life a healthy makeover, check out these eight super-simple ways to keep yourself — and your coworkers — healthy and productive at your workplace:
Keep Your Hands Clean
The more time you spend out and about with other people, the more likely you are to pick up germs that cause the common cold and other ailments. You can cut your chances of spreading — and catching! — a respiratory infection by almost half just by washing your hands regularly at work. Encourage your coworkers to keep clean by upgrading to a moisturizing soap with a scent everyone can agree on in the bathroom. It’s also a good idea to keep a hand sanitizer pump at your desk for a quick shot before eating lunch or a snack. Keep it in a prominent location so you don’t forget to use it.
Use Your Sick Days
If you have a fever, are otherwise contagious (for example, you’ve been using antibiotics for less than 24 hours), or your medication affects your ability to work, you owe it to yourself and your officemates to stay home in bed. You won’t get better without that much-needed rest, and you risk spreading your germs to the rest of the staff if you try to power through. You can help adjust office culture around this issue by encouraging your coworkers to stay home when they’re ill — or at least refrain from making them feel guilty about missing a day at work when they return. If everyone in your office can feel okay about using a sick day, people will be much less likely to come to work sick and share their germs with others.
Drink Plenty of Water
To stay properly hydrated, you need to drink six to eight glasses of water each day. Dehydration causes short-term problems like headaches, and it’s also linked to long-term health issues like kidney stones and urinary tract infections. You’ll never make it to your daily drinking goal without keeping a bottle of water with you on your desk during the work day. Water is the best beverage, so try to steer clear of sugary sodas and coffees.
If you’re used to relying on a mid-morning coffee break to fuel up at work, you’re probably creating a vicious rollercoaster of energy ups and downs for yourself. Smooth things out by switching to green tea and skipping the added sugar. Instead of that mocha latte, try a protein-packed snack of mixed nuts or a hard cheese. These will keep you full and focused without the dreaded sugar crash later. When you do hit that afternoon drop in energy, a piece of fruit will perk you up with a bit of natural sugar and a healthy dose of fiber and vitamins.
Take a Walk
When you spend half of your waking hours at work, it’s important to inject some exercise into your day on a regular basis — otherwise, it will be hard to reach your fitness goals. Use your lunch break to take a 15-minute walk around the block to stretch your legs and get your heart pumping. You’ll also clear your mind and be energized to face the rest of your tasks afterwards. If the weather isn’t nice enough to take a walk, try using those 15 minutes to do your in-building errands (photocopying, mail pickup, etc.). Be sure to hit the stairs a few times in the process.
Try a Mini Meditation Session
One of the biggest health-busters at work is stress. Stress causes muscle tension and pain, increases blood pressure, and can increase your risk for anxiety and depression. When you start feeling the pressure, take a five- to 10-minute break to meditate. You can stay right at your desk and do something as simple as focusing on your breathing and repeating a mantra that calms you (“I always have enough time” is a popular choice). It’s a good idea to try a mini meditation every day to stay calm and focused: With practice, you’ll be able to control your stress levels on command.
Get Excited About Ergonomics
Sitting at your desk for hours on end is bound to have your muscles aching. In addition to getting up for stretch breaks and taking short walks, consider shopping around for a desk chair that’s designed to keep your spine in alignment as you work. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make good ergonomic adjustments — for starters, make sure your feet are balanced flat on the floor, your computer screen is at eye level, and your lower back has proper lumbar support. Good ergonomics will help you avoid fatigue, muscle pain, and repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.
Avoid the Office Rumor Mill
It might seem harmless to engage in office chatter, but your workplace relationships have a major impact on your health. Working out your issues with a true confidant can be rewarding, but office bullying and other toxic relationships can be damaging to your health. A recent study at UCLA showed that negative social interactions increased subjects’ physical inflammatory responses, which in turn are linked to serious illnesses like cancer and heart disease. Do your best to rise above the fray by keeping things professional and polite — and steer clear of coffee-break gossip.
You can tackle this list of healthy tips solo, but you might have more success if you get your coworkers involved in turning your office into a healthier workplace for everyone. Getting your team on board with healthy snacking and lunchtime walks can help shift office culture and expectations in a healthier direction, and working together on new health initiatives can be a big morale booster. Try focusing on just one healthy step at a time until it becomes a habit; then add another. Before you know it, you’ll feel better and have more energy to spend with your friends and family when you leave the office behind at the end of the day.