How to stay healthy at work

Our holistic health experts offer some top advice for keeping fit and healthy in the workplace

According to the World Health Organisation, the average person spends a third of their lives at work. That’s a lot of hours we’re putting in at the office! This is all the more reason to make sure that our workplaces are healthy environments where we follow good habits and look after our bodies and minds. Let’s take a look at how to improve our health in the workplace:

Eat a good breakfast
“Breakfast is an essential part of your daily routine,” says Amy Morris, a nutritionist working with www.waterforhealth.co.uk. “If you skip breakfast regularly, make sure it becomes a priority when trying to boost your brain power at work. Eating breakfast daily can help to improve short-term memory and attention span, with several studies showing that students who eat breakfast tend to perform better overall than those who skip it. A good breakfast should ideally include a little food from all three of the macronutrient groups, such as protein, carbohydrates and fats. All choices should be as fresh as possible and in whole food form for maximum nutrition and benefits to health and concentration.”

Keep hydrated
Keep a large bottle of water on your desk and drink it throughout the day. Sitting in an office and working on computers is very dehydrating. “Many people tend to drink tea and coffee all day long which are diuretic drinks, meaning they deplete the body of water,” explains Elizabeth Montgomery, a holistic nutritional therapist (www.holisticnutrition.co.uk). However, if you can’t face giving up your morning latte, Elizabeth suggests sticking to just one cup of coffee with almond milk and follow the rule of drinking it after, not before your breakfast. “Then switch to herbal teas or one green tea in the afternoon,” she adds. “This will help to keep stress levels in check.”

Avoid sugary snacks
A lot of office workers rely on sugary snacks to keep them going throughout the day and it can be hard to resist when a colleague brings in cookies or cakes to share. Elizabeth Montgomery recommends keeping healthy snacks in your drawer to keep temptation at bay. “It’s good to include snacks that are low in sugar, but protein-rich, to help stabilise blood sugar levels,” she says. “Try a handful of almonds, pumpkin seeds with goji berries, or spread raw almond butter onto one or two oat cakes. This will help you to concentrate, steady out your mood and keep your energy levels up too.” In terms of healthy lunches, Elizabeth recommends meals containing good quality protein such as a lentil stew with salad, a goat’s cheese salad, or salmon with watercress salad and raw sauerkraut.

Eat more oily fish
If you want to stay sharp and on top form during the working day trying upping your intake of oily fish. “Several studies have shown that supplementing your diet with omega-3 fish oil can boost concentration due to its ability to help increase blood flow to the brain during mental activity,” says Amy Morris. “Additional studies also show that a diet with higher levels of omega-3 has been linked to a lowered risk of dementia and strokes, and can slow down mental decline. Omega-3 fish oil can be obtained through eating oily fish, such as line and pole caught mackerel (this is also lower in mercury).” Alternatively try taking a high quality omega-3 fish oil supplement, or if you are vegetarian or vegan look for a plant-based supplement.

Support your immunity
“Stress is an immune response, which is why when you are stressed you can get run down and become more susceptible to colds and bugs,” says Sarah Green, Registered Nutritional Therapist and Vice Chair of BANT (www.BANT.org.uk). “With 70 per cent of the immune system in the gut every food choice you make affects your ability to manage stress. When you’re working 24/7 and under pressure at work it’s easy to make the wrong food choices, relying on sugar and caffeine to get you through the day (and sometimes the night). Eat real unprocessed foods, mostly plants. Boost your protein intake through fish, chicken, eggs and lean meats and eat more good fats like nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil. Eat your veggies first, so you get five to seven portions of colourful, non-starchy vegetables a day. Phytonutrients (the colours) in plants tell us about our environment and can influence short and long-term gene expression. They are anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing.”

Check your vitamin D level
“Get your vitamin D level checked,” says Sarah Green. “Vitamin D affects your immune response and your ability to fight bugs. When you’re inside more than you should be and especially at this time of the year, it is easy for vitamin D to become depleted. Garlic, onions and herbs like oregano and thyme are naturally anti-microbial. They feed your good bacteria in your gut and may help you stay on top. For sore throats and clearer sinuses, try hot water with fresh lemon, ginger and rosemary. Leave it to steep on your desk and sip throughout the working day. Raw honey can be soothing and has antimicrobial properties too.”

Improve your posture
One of the side-effects of sitting at a desk all day is bad posture. However, a regular yoga practice can be a life-saver for the desk-bound office worker. “Sitting all day can play havoc with the back, compressing the discs and causing the spine to lose flexibility and often misaligning the spine’s natural curves,” says yoga teacher Kirsty Gallagher (www.kirstygallagher.com). “The main benefit of a regular yoga practice is that it gives you extreme levels of self-awareness and helps you to realise when you have slipped back into old, bad postural habits. The more you open, lengthen and strengthen your body the less it will feel good to sit and slouch all day. You’ll find yourself automatically holding yourself better and taking better postural care of yourself at your desk all day.” Kirsty recommends the yoga pose Adho Mukha Svanasana, also known as down dog, for helping to align and lengthen the spine.

Increase your mobility

“If you sit at a desk for hours on end you need to make sure you’ve covered the basics,” says Arif Soomro, British Chiropractor of the Year 2015/16 (www.cliffschiropractorsouthend.co.uk).

“This includes a good chair to support your lower back, both feet should always be flat on the floor to distribute your weight evenly and your screen should be positioned at eye level so that you don’t look down, which puts more strain on the spine.” There are some discreet exercises you can do at work to help reduce stiffness and increase mobility. Arif suggests doing the following exercise once every 40 minutes whilst you are at work:

  • Make sure your feet are flat on the floor, your bottom and back are against the chair back, your stomach is pulled into your spine and your shoulders are back and down.
  • Clasp your hands behind the chair back and try to squeeze your shoulder blades together without changing your upright position. Imagine you’re trying to hold a pencil between your shoulder blades to get the best stretch.
  • Hold this position for five seconds then release. Repeat five times.

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