Wage war against an unhealthy office job

Working a 9-5 job is can be an unhealthy business. But, it doesn’t have to be. By making some easy changes to your day, a day stuck behind the desk can become much more active and fulfilling day, which in turn will result in a more positive attitude, increased energy levels and improved performance. And trust me, I’ve been there. 

I didn’t really know what the ‘afternoon slump’ really meant before starting my first office job. Before long, I was snacking constantly, having too much coffee, not being active enough during the day and not drinking enough water. It left me low on energy, fairly miserable and feeling unhealthy. Desk-based work is a massive contributor to the UK’s alarmingly low levels of physical activity. However, some small changes can make a big difference,

Making small changes

So where did I start making my changes? I began with breakfast – aptly named the most important meal of the day. A wholesome, healthy breakfast is the best way to start any day as it can provide you with the energy needed to get through those painful mornings. It will also prevent you from consuming fatty junk food before lunchtime! I fell foul to bacon and sausage baps previously. Now, I save those for treat days and go for porridge most mornings. Alternatively, try low-fat yoghurt, combined with a bowl of fresh fruit or cereal. Get that metabolism ignited as early as possible and give the brain the fuel it needs to operate at its peak.

I then looked at my travel to work. Before moving to London, I drove to work (expensive and traffic-filled). When I moved to London I began commuting by tube (expensive and horrendously hot). I decided to start cycling to work, which is the perfect way to mix travel and exercise. If you have been thinking about cycling to work but don’t know where to start, check out this blog. With the Government’s bike to work scheme, it is incredibly easy and affordable to buy a bike, and most UK cities are improving their cycling infrastructure. Although you do read about certain incidents, cycle safely and you’ll be fine. I’ve never had any issues cycling on the busy London routes. There are plenty of cycle routes, with more continually being developed by local councils, and the benefits to your health, as well as the money you save on public transport or fuel, makes this a viable option for those looking to include fitness in their daily routine. I started, and never looked back.

Thirdly, I wanted to up my water intake. It is very important to maintain optimum hydration at work but time constraints, such as meetings, work deadlines and so on, can consume your day leading us to forget to drink enough water. It sounds basic but it’s amazing how many colleagues I have who don’t drink enough water and then complain about headaches… We should all be drinking at least eight glasses of water every day – do you? Drinking a good amount of water helps remove toxins from your body without taking in any additional calories. Plus, getting up to get a drink will help your blood flow and maintain muscle. If the thought of 8 glasses of boring water fills you with dread, why not try green tea – there are many flavours to choose from such as lemon, mint, orange or cinnamon to mention a few. Green tea has been proven to help increase your metabolism without additional calories, whilst also providing a boost of caffeine to keep you alert at your desk. Good hydration aids problem-solving and concentration – two key skills in the workplace.

Changing up my lunch break was my next move. Previously, I’d sit at my desk my lunchtimes (especially tempting in busy jobs). However, I actually found my work performance suffering because I wasn’t taking a break. I now break up my day with a blast of fresh air, unless I have an urgent meeting. And I never skip lunch – I see a lot of people do this. If you don’t get up and about and regularly move, your muscles will become tense and tight. Additionally, moving away from a computer screen gives your eyes a much-needed break. When it comes to moving around the office, I also try and take the stairs as much as possible. Even the smallest burst of movement can help – if you get backache, try shrugging your shoulders, twist your hips, do some neck rolls, etc.

Food is a massive contributor to unhealthy office jobs. While lots of workplaces now offer fruit, there are still plenty of unhealthy snacks going around – think doughnuts, cakes, chocolate and so on. When I think back to how I ate at work, it actually disgusts me. I used to eat biscuits all day, have sugar in every tea/coffee, eat chocolate most days and fairly regularly have a double lunch. No wonder I always used to feel awful in the afternoon! Now, I have swapped those out for healthier alternatives and I feel much better. We should be eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day so if your office provides fruit, take full advantage of it! You should also try blueberries (mix with yoghurt) as these are great for getting rid of fat around the waist. I get it, the urge to snack at your desk is a big one, most of us have all been there! However, fight the temptation. There are plenty of alternatives to chocolate, fast food, crisps etc… although don’t forget everything is alright in moderation!

I’ll finish with waging war against workplace stress. Stress at the workplace is often a cause for smoking, depression, comfort eating and so on, therefore, you need to be thinking about how you can combat this. A cigarette is not an answer here! There are better and healthier ways to de-stress – sport and exercise are proven to provide anti-stress, energy and happiness benefits. Plenty of my colleagues go to the gym at lunch, for instance, and feel great for it.

Everything in moderation

The key point here is that with some subtle changes, that unhealthy office job which is resulting in low fitness levels or an increase in weight can be easily beaten. I don’t starve myself, go on any fad diets or give myself too much grief when I eat cake. Find a balance, add in some exercise, and you’ll reap the rewards. But remember, small changes can make a big difference.

Chris Smith
Founder of Vivi Nation, sports enthusiast, occasional triathlete, keen cyclist and optimistic Liverpool FC fan.

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