It's a pretty safe bet that many of us have resolved to lead healthier lives in 2017.
Fitness and health is something that can have a huge impact on our productivity (and more importantly our happiness) at work, so I thought I'd share some ideas about steps we can take that may improve both.
1. Learn how to manage stress
A big subject this, so I'll keep it brief. According to the Health and Safety Executive, in 2015/16 stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health.
The main causes of stress at work are pressure, lack of support and bullying, and while it's hard to prevent the causes of stress, there are some steps you can take to manage it.
- Prioritising your time and recognising that you'll never get everything done
- Learning to relax
- Getting more exercise
There are many online resources to help you manage stress. Here's one.
2. Stand up!
Scientists have long made an association with prolonged sitting and a number of diseases and ailments including (but not limited to) obesity and diabetes.
So I welcome the rise, if you'll pardon the pun, of stand-up meetings. I've seen a number of companies that have stand-up tables for quick break-out meetings. When standing we burn, on average, 50 more calories per hour then we do when sitting. Stand-up meetings also encourage brevity, which is no bad thing.
Many more progressive companies now use stand-up desks, for the same reason. While the more modern electronic rising desks are a brilliant adaptation, the standing desk is not as recent an innovation as some may think – Ernest Hemingway wrote his novels at one, if you allow that a typewriter on top of a bookcase is a desk!
A progression from this is the increasingly popular walking meeting. I know of one life coach who offers beach or forest-based "walk and talk" sessions because they believe that gentle exercise in a pleasant environment can help an individual to clear their minds of the every-day detritus that can cloud thinking. Walking meetings can have a comparable benefit, whilst also burning calories.
4. Make the tea
What I really mean by this is: find an opportunity to take a break. Plenty of people ignore the Health and Safety Executive's recommendation to take a short break from their computer every hour (frequent, short breaks are better than longer, less frequent ones). And yes, it's not always easy to do this. So if you work in an environment where it can be difficult to get away from your desk, find good reason to do so – even if that means volunteering to make the tea!
5. Get out at lunchtime
Many people think they're resting because they stop work for an hour and instead spend time shopping online. But they're still sitting at their desks and still staring at their screen. Your lunchbreak should be about giving your eyes and brain a rest, as well as any benefits you gain from a change of scene and some gentle exercise.
Speaking of lunch, many of us binge-eat at lunchtime, overloading on carbohydrates and wondering why we "crash" just after lunch. Combining a light, healthy lunch with regular healthy snacks that release energy throughout the day is a great way to gain energy and stay productive (not to mention an aid to losing weight if combined with a sensible exercise programme).
7. Stay hydrated
Dehydration is the enemy of productivity in the workplace. According to the Institute of Health and Productivity Management, a 1% decrease in your hydration level can lower the amount of work you produce by up to 20%.
Dehydration can lead to fatigue and energy loss, reduced attention span, headaches, digestive disorders, high and low blood pressure, over-eating (we can confuse thirst with hunger, giving our body water-rich food when it actually craves water) and more.
We're more than 60% water, and staying hydrated is essential for our health. There's no secret to staying hydrated: ensure you're regularly taking on water in the office, perhaps aiming to get through a two-litre bottle per day (or taking regular trips to the water cooler which will also get you out of your chair!).
But snacking on fruit and vegetables, which are high in water, is also a good idea, as is swopping a lunchtime sugary drink for water.
Isotonic drinks help us replace salt and minerals lost through sweating, so coconut water is a great fluid to take on in addition to pure (or tap) water because it contains essential minerals.
8. Get regular exercise
I won't try to sell you the benefits of regular exercise here; you already know them. (Don't forget that if you're new to exercise you should always take it easy at first and consult a doctor if in doubt about what you should or shouldn't do).
But with a general rise in the amount of time we spend at work and, if you live in the UK, the winter challenge of the dark mornings and dark nights, joining a gym or exercise class with a friend or group of friends can be a great way to get motivated and stay motivated.
If you're time-poor, the increasingly popular HIT (high intensity training) workouts can be a great boon too, because they can be done at home and don't take up much time. Many sessions are no more than twenty minutes in duration – but they're hard! You need to do your homework to ensure you're ready to start HIT workouts.
Many people take a very "all or nothing" approach to exercise, meaning they tend to give up if they can't spend 9 hours a week running. A change of attitude here can do wonders – and with HIT workouts, you won't even feel like you're compromising.
9. Clock-watch those meetings
Meetings: don't you just love them? Especially when they're held in stuffy board rooms and seem to go on for twice as long as they really need to. We've all felt lethargic after meetings; it's no surprise when we're stuck in a seat for hours, unable to stand up or move around, rehydrate as much as we'd like, or take a break.
Set strict time limits on meetings and adopt a protocol that the key decisions or purpose of the meeting must be achieved within a set time frame. It can also help to have a timekeeper (it can be the meeting Chairperson) to ensure each agenda point does not take any longer than it should.
This not only ensures people stay sharp, but is also a great way of ensuring their meeting time is time spent wisely. It's also a good idea to ensure that the only people at a meeting are those who really need to be there.
I hope you find these tips useful, and I wish you well.