Don’t just sit there

Whether you are a gym bunny or a couch potato in your spare time, a job that has you glued to your seat most of the day is bad news for health. A 14-year-long prospective study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that the number of hours spent sitting was independently associated with mortality. Those who sat more than six hours a day were at least 18 percent more likely to die during the study period than those who sat fewer than three hours a day, regardless of physical activity levels. Aim to stand up and move or stretch every 20-30 minutes – even if it’s just for a minute or two. And should you need any further persuasion to step away from your desk at regular intervals, here it is: a study published in the Journal of Biomechanics found that the mechanical pressure prolonged sitting places on the hips and bottom appears to increase fat storage in these areas by 50 per cent – adding an expanding rear view to the unappealing consequences of sedentarism (a word that has only been invented through necessity).

Declutter your desk

A clean, uncluttered working space is far more conducive to a productive day than a desk piled high with files, dirty mugs and scraps of paper. Depending on how bad the situation is, put aside half an hour (or half a day, in my case!) to clear your desk, wipe your keyboard and screen clean and organise your files and papers. You’ll feel a lot more clearheaded when you do so, and you won’t waste time and energy having to look for important things that have disappeared under the rubble.

Work out your workstation

If much of your working life involves sitting at a desk (or anywhere in which you are confined for long periods), make sure you are sitting comfortably. Chairs and worktops that are too high or low, lights that flicker, screens set too close or too far back, insufficient desk space, a twisted torso… all these occupational hazards can leave you feeling stiff, sore and fatigued by the end of the working day. It is your employer’s responsibility to ensure that your workstation is set up in an ergonomically correct fashion – even if that means investing in a special type of keyboard, a lumbar support or phone headset for you. If the responsibility lies with you, then invest in a workstation assessment to help you (and your staff, if you have any) are in the correct set-up. Once you’ve got it right, sit properly, with your feet flat on the floor, your thighs supported but not compressed by the chair seat and your back straight. Regularly ‘scan’ your body throughout the day, keeping an eye out for hunched, tight shoulders, a clenched jaw, a hanging-out tummy, a jutting-forward head or crossed legs.

Be green

Don’t leave computers, faxes, phone chargers and photocopiers switched on all the time – apart from the fact that it wastes energy, all electrical equipment emits electro-magnetic fields, and there is some evidence that these are linked with sub-optimal health and conditions such as insomnia, headaches and anxiety. This is even more important if you work at home. Certain plants can help absorb the pollutants emitted by office carpets, MDF, paint and anti-stain treated fabrics – such as formaldehyde, benzene and trichorethylene. Spider plants, peace lilies, Golden pothos and Goosefoot plant are all effective varieties.

Go natural

An overheated office with no natural light or fresh air is as far removed from the natural world as you can get, but it can help to bring some of the outside in or if all else fails, to ensure you get outside for at least 20 minutes each day. An American study found that workers in a call centre processed calls six to 12 per cent faster when they had a nice view versus those with no view. Office workers were found to perform 10-25 per cent better on tests of mental function and memory recall when they had the best view versus no view. Another study, from Washington State University, found that workers in a windowless room were less stressed and more productive when plants were brought in. Meanwhile, Swiss research found that employees working in environments with natural light recorded higher levels of energy than those in artificially-lit workplaces, so fight hard for that desk by the window. A plug-in ioniser can help improve indoor air quality (available from department stores and chemists).

Get personal

According to the Chinese art of Feng Shui, it’s good to place something that reminds you of the non-work related aspect of your life on the left-hand side of your desk – such as a beautiful print, or a holiday souvenir. Photos of loved ones should sit in the middle and top right-hand corners.

Ease your eyes

If you work on a computer, you are spending long periods of time focusing on something at a fixed distance, straight in front of you. To relax your eyes, regularly focus on something much further away (ideally, out of a window) and at things to your left and right. Roll your eyes from side to side. Another soothing exercise is to cup your hands over your eyes so that no light whatsoever can get in for a few moments. Repeat these exercises throughout the day. And don’t forget to blink.

By Sam Murphy (Health and fitness journalist, author and coach), Huffington Post, August 2013

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