I’m 28-years old and I’ve worked in an office since I finished university at the age of 23. As a teenager and an adult, I was never in bad shape, but fitness was always a bit of a problem. Not anymore…
Snacking was also an issue, because I have the curse/good fortune that I don’t ever put on weight, so I would eat and eat and didn’t have to worry about visible, tangible side-effects.
As I grew older I began to realise that I needed to take better care of myself. That kind of lifestyle might not seem so bad in the short-term, but ten years from any given moment, I’d like to be able to say, “I’ve spent the last ten years taking care of myself” rather than, “I should have spent the last ten years taking better care of myself”.
Office work can and is seen by most people as sedentary. You sit down, you stay put, you only get up and move when necessary, and after an eight-hour shift you’ve gotten virtually no exercise, which the human body isn’t designed for. Considering that office work accounts for the vast majority of jobs today, the problem of being sedentary is very widespread.
This situation presents the following problems:
- Long period of time each day ‘wasted’ in terms of exercise routine
- Back/muscle/joint problems from staying still for too long, often in less than optimal sitting arrangements
- Snacking – for energy but also through boredom
- Sedentariness can spread to personal life – after spending all day sitting down, and possibly after a tiring day at work, it can be very difficult to motivate yourself and feel the physical desire to exercise outside of work in the evening or during weekends.
- Sickness – this kind of lifestyle generally results in a weak immune system, leading to more coughs, colds, the flu etc.
The most important first step in making improvements in this situation is to realise that it doesn’t have to be this way. Don’t do the easy thing of accepting your sedentary fate because of the nature of office work. Go beyond that. Obviously the nature of office work presents limits, but if you’re motivated to do so you can always find ways to limit these limits. The following are practical steps you can implement to change this aspect of your office life.
Tips to remain health-conscious
- Exercise during lunch – don’t skip lunch or make it as short as possible just so you can leave earlier in the evening. Lunchtime is a perfect occasion during the day to get some exercise. Your body is at its best and most awake, and it’s a great way to puncture the monotony of pre and post-lunch work. How you do it depends on your ability and on your office, but why not take a long lunch and go for a run? If you have showers in work, then you’re sorted. Then you can eat quickly afterwards. Is there a swimming pool nearby? If running and swimming aren’t possible, what about a walk or cycle? Your lunch break is there to be used, so don’t let it go to waste. Even once or twice a week is infinitely better than 99% of other people’s routines and is already enough to feel the difference.
- Snacking – each snack is a single snack, but they build up over time. If you need energy or you’re bored and you can’t do without your snack, at least make sure to snack on something decent. Nuts and raisins are a great snack and won’t have the detrimental effect on your body that crisps and biscuits do. Even wholegrain biscuits are a step in the right direction. Alternatively, if there’s a kitchen, what about some olives or some fruit juice?
- Herbal teas instead of coffee/tea – coffee and tea are the standard for every office worker, but they’re not the only option. Almost all offices have at least a kettle, so why not swap the tea/coffee for a herbal or green tea? Making tea and coffee is done more as a ritual to distract yourself or to socialise than it is to actually enjoy those beverages. Making yourself a green tea, a fennel infusion, chamomile or even a sweet liquorice infusion means that you can keep the ritual but consume something that does you good rather than harm. Herbal teas cleanse your palate as well, so they can help keep the sweet tooth at bay.
- Do your sums – Each moment/beverage/activity can seem like a drop in the ocean, so do your sums and add them all up to help motivate yourself. Add up how often you get good exercise. Once a week, so 52 times in 365 days? If you go running at lunch twice a week how does that change? Three times a week and 156 times in 365 days? 156 times means almost every second day. Now let’s think about fueling your body and about what having one coffee does to it. It’s insignificant, right? Now think about your body and the number of coffees you subject it to in a month. It could be as much as a hundred a month, 1200 in the space of a year. That’s a lot of coffee that results from your desire for a break.
- Buddy/group motivation – implementing changes, especially ones that require effort, can be difficult when done alone. If you can find another person or other people who want to make the same changes that you do, you can motivate each other and drag each other along when things get difficult. There’s a big difference between saying, “Today I’m not up for my run. Today I want to have some crisps” to yourself, and saying it to someone who’s in the same boat and is there to encourage you.
- Charity runs/walks – if charity isn’t enough to pique your interest, think about it more selfishly. A charity run gives you the motivation to train and do the run, so think about yourself and how these activities mean ‘free’ encouragement from others.
- Sitting arrangement in the office – You spend half of your waking life at your job, so make sure your seating position is on the money. A little bit of discomfort for 8 hours, 5 days a week, year in year out can turn into chronic back pains, neck pains or similar. Take the hour necessary to make sure your seating arrangement is comfortable and ergonomic. Employers are obliged as well to provide this, so don’t be afraid about asking.
- Keep getting up – Walking around a bit every so often has a great effect on your body, and prevents staying put all day long, which is to be avoided at all costs. Find reasons to get up. Get a small glass of water each time so you’ll have to go refill more often. Make it a habit of going to the toilet in the furthest toilet in the building so you can turn a 15-second walk you do several times a day to a 1-minute walk. Go to colleague’s desks rather than phoning and emailing.
- Refuse to say no to proposals – some people have a policy of accepting invitations to socialise because it forces them to get over shyness, lack of enthusiasm, low self-confidence. Apply that policy to exercise. If someone proposes a run/walk/swim or whatever the case may be, impose the yes rule on yourself. The exercise is not going to do you harm, so the only thing stopping you is your level of enthusiasm.
- Habit turns effort into your normal routine – When making changes seems difficult and that you don’t have the willpower to keep it going long-term, remember that habit makes effort disappear. You might think walking 15km a day is too much, but before the advent of cars most people would have done that without batting an eyelid. How? Habit. Things were that way and so people were used to it. If you can make these changes a habit, then it won’t be a question of going out of your way to perform them – it will be second nature.
Differences this can have on your life
Exercise and lifestyle guides often make exaggerated claims that they can transform and revolutionise your life. Normally when you see those claims you lose faith in the value of the contents. However, changing a sedentary lifestyle to an active one is life-changing in the literal sense of the term. You go from inactive to active, which is the polar opposite. However, changing to the polar opposite doesn’t mean completely revolutionising your life and interests. Making a conscious effort can be enough to achieve this change, and the benefits are numerous:
- More energy
- More active outside of work
- Better sleep
- Happier – a good diet and regular exercise have a profound effect on your mood
- Lose weight
- Longer life-span
- Less health problems – less joint and back pain, stronger immune system
- Physical appearance – we all want to look our best, and good diet and exercise give you better posture, better muscle tonicity, clearer skin, improved blood flow, etc.
- Self-confidence – when you go from unfit to fit, weak to strong, overweight to your target weight, obviously your self-confidence levels increase in line with that change.
So get to it! You have the potential to make this change just like I do – just like everyone does. In ten years time if someone asks you if you’ve done what you could to take care of yourself over the last decade, what are you going to respond?