Fit at Work

Germany alone is home to more than 18 million PC office workstations. On average, office workers spend eight or more hours sitting at a desk, and this modern work culture falls remarkably short of supplying the body with sorely needed movement. Hard work in front of a monitor also makes it all the more crucial to refill energy reserves with the correct nutrition. There are a number of hurdles to clear in order to achieve a healthier daily routine. However, it is really quite simple to develop a more active office routine and a healthier and more varied diet.

Office Stocktaking

First, let us focus on the centrepiece of daily work, your desk. As a general rule, an office worker inherits a complete desk set-up and office chair from their predecessor. Whilst some office workers make at least minor modifications to their workstation or add certain accessories to suit their personal taste, these changes generally reflect practicality and aesthetics. It is of greater importance to adapt the workstation from a viewpoint of ergonomics.

Compare this scenario with your wardrobe. Imagine that somebody filled your wardrobe with clothes and that you had to wear these clothes every day. A little bit strange, isn’t it? But what does this scenario have in common with your PC workstation?

It is precisely that we would outright refuse a work uniform or at least regard it with suspicion, however we accept another individual’s desk and office chair without question. We have no qualms in using our predecessor’s office furniture and at most, change the seat height of our “new” office chair. Note that most tables are also height-adjustable to at least several centimetres and can thus be set to individual height. It is also a good idea to take a glance at the underside of your office chair, as perhaps your model has certain features that you were not aware of. Important functions include seat depth adjustability and adjustable lumbar arch support.

Additionally, a number of laws have been introduced to maintain optimum energy levels and performance at work and to prevent serious injury.

Laws and Guidelines

Many governments have published guidelines and regulations to support workplace health. These documents, such as the German "Bildschirmarbeitsverordnung” (computer work regulation), describe factors such as sitting at an appropriate distance from your monitor, desk and work material (e.g. pens, paper, notebooks). If all aspects of these regulations are observed, this already marks a big step in the right direction.

In most offices, however, employees must take personal initiative to implement these changes in order to work in a “back-friendly” fashion.

Workplace health publications provide information not only on equipment and resources, but also on appropriate office size. There must be sufficient room to accommodate changing work posture and for movement around the office space. Lighting is also a significant factor in preventing long-term eyesight problems.

All things considered, designing an office from an ergonomic standpoint is a comprehensive task and necessitates considerable planning. Indeed, furnishing an office space requires more than just attention to the right furniture. For example, the number of office workers should be appropriate to office size in order to create a pleasant work environment.

In many cases, we do not have any influence over many of these factors. Only a small minority of employees will be able to choose their workstation based on the work environment and ergonomics. Nevertheless, everyone should try to create the best possible work environment with the materials allotted to them.

Planning A More Active Workday

Just after getting up in the morning we eat breakfast, step into the car and drive to work. In the office, we spend the whole day sitting at a desk. And upon coming home in the evening, we retire to the sofa and have thus spent almost the whole day sitting. STOP. This is where changes must be made and new patterns developed. Leave the car keys at home, use public transport more often and start walking or riding a bike to work. Adopting a healthier lifestyle first involves overcoming lazy habits and tendencies, which admittedly, is not always an easy task. Nevertheless, a conscious effort to avoid motorised transport will quickly result in substantial gains. You will feel fitter and will not find yourself out of breath as easily. A more active workday is also the best preventative measure against health problems.

A lack of movement is in most cases also a reason for chronic back and neck pain. Stretches and strength exercises allow you to relax target muscle groups with very little time and effort to aid in preventing serious back problems.

Similarly, back tension is often the product of bad posture during prolonged sitting. The severity of back tension and associated pain can be countered with a few simple exercises. One of the simplest goes as follows:

Sit straight on your chair with your feet flat on the floor. Stretch your arms upwards into the air, then lower each arm 90° to your side. Try to pull your shoulder blades together until you notice tension. Try to maintain this tension. Repeat this exercise several times for best results.

As with the back and neck, working at a screen is also taxing for the eyes. The most basic exercise for relieving eye tension is to focus your gaze as far away as possible in all directions. Look left and right, up and down, diagonally and in circles, clockwise and anti-clockwise. Repeat this exercise several times for best results. It would be ideal to pause after each step by closing your eyes.

However, targeted exercises are only one aspect of improved back health. Often, a general change in mindset can revolutionise work habits and effect great improvement.

The following considerations may help:

  • Which tasks can I do standing up?
  • How can I integrate more movement into my workday?
  • Do I really have to sit down during my break?

Integrating more movement into your workday is actually quite simple. Go for a walk around the block before or after your lunch break or simply take the scenic route through the office. Take the stairs rather than the lift or stand up during telephone conversations.

Taken together, these small changes bring a level of dynamism and movement into your day. The transition between sitting and standing is crucial to this approach, as it activates the leg and back muscles, stimulates the cardio-circulatory system and improves breathing. This transition is of course easiest if your workplace provides electrically height-adjustable desks. The rule of thumb is as follows: 50% sitting, 25% standing and 25% movement.

If you manage to include some of these exercises into your workday, you will find work more comfortable and will also be doing your back a big favour.

To maintain long-term fitness, the body also needs an adequate amount of energy. But which snacks lend themselves to office work? And what is best avoided?

Snacks and Nutrition at Work

There is consensus among health experts that eating one big meal and one to two light snacks between meals is healthier than eating three big meals per day. Indeed, a healthy snack on the side is not only packed with nutrients, vitamins and minerals but can also help in reducing hunger before your lunch break.

In the absence of real cravings, we tend to almost automatically avoid fast food and large portions. When selecting a morning or afternoon tea snack, however, you should consciously avoid all sweets, pastries and other sugary foods. Too much sugar spikes insulin levels, which can lead to concentration difficulties.

So what options do I have left for a snack at work?

Sandwiches! But in this case, a healthy variant. To count as a healthy morning or afternoon tea, choose wholegrain or rye bread. White bread, on the other hand, is unsuitable and should be avoided if possible. For the filling, use turkey or chicken breast and cottage cheese or marmalade and jams with low sugar content. Needless to say, there are absolutely no restrictions on salad and vegetables.

Fresh cereal is another alternative. For a quick and easy meal, use low sugar cereal from the supermarket. Otherwise, make your own and add fresh fruit, a dash of milk or yogurt and voilà, your energy boost is ready to go! Avoid adding nuts and chocolate to your cereal.

The best option for a workplace snack is a balanced mix of fruit and vegetables, which couples as a front-runner for meeting energy needs.

Simply cut a few carrots, apples, capsicum or cucumbers into sticks and pack them into a sealable container. You can nibble on these healthy energy boosters at your desk anytime.

In any case, the most important consideration is variety. Regularly switching around your morning tea, afternoon tea and snack options will ensure that this new kind of “work break” does not get boring too quickly and that you maintain healthy eating habits at work in the long-term.

A quick overview of the do’s & don’ts of office snacks:

  Fit Fat
Morning Home-made cereal, fruit salad Bagel, ham sandwich
Afternoon Wholegrain bread, mixed salad Pizza, cheese stick
In between Vegetable sticks, fruit Chips, nuts, pretzels

Maintaining adequate hydration

Ensuring that you drink enough fluids at work is at least as important as the right nutrition. The exact amount that we should be drinking per day is a subject of dispute, and there are many rumours and half-truths in circulation. The ideal amount probably lies at around two to four litres per day, depending on body weight and other factors. Given that most of us spend eight or more hours at the computer, we should ensure a balanced water intake throughout the day. Unfortunately, many office desks are often strewn with unhealthy and sugary drinks such as coca cola, lemonade or juices. In spite of these popular choices, water is the best source of hydration, be it tap water, filtered water or sparkling mineral water from the supermarket. Only ever drinking water can be monotonous, so make tea and freshly squeezed juices a part of the program.

If your workplace follows legal regulations, your desk and office chair are adjusted to your personal needs and you manage to avoid fatty and sugary foods every so often, you will be integrating healthy lifestyle choices into your work environment and work in a much more relaxed manner.

Of course, you don’t have to try all of the listed tips, but there are certainly some among them that are easy to translate into action at work.

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