Picture this: In your 20s, you skip breakfast to reach office early. Once the meeting is over, you have coffee and two-three biscuits. You work till late evening. A decade later, you struggle to work, for your shoulder and neck are stiff from slouching in front of the computer for too long; you are overweight, constantly tired, depressed and stressed.
Working in a closed office can damage your health in more ways than you can imagine. Here are some work habits you should get rid of at the earliest.
Walk, stand and stretch
On an average, most of us spend 8-10 hours a day in office. This adds up to 50-60 hours every week. And most of these hours are spent sitting. According to a study published last year in the International Journal Of Epidemiology, the lack of movement, whether sitting or standing, is cause for concern. According to a report, “Is Your Job Making You Fat?”, published in 2010 in the journal Preventive Medicine, office workers have become less active over the last three decades—this partly explains the rise in obesity levels.
Navneet Kaur, senior consultant, internal medicine, at the Apollo Spectra Hospitals in New Delhi, says, “Even simple steps like walking up to a colleague to discuss an issue instead of writing an email or calling on the phone can help.”
In fact, a study published in June in Preventing Chronic Disease, another journal, says that changing even one seated meeting per week at work into a walking meeting can increase the work-related physical activity levels of white-collar workers by 10 minutes. “Sitting increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease even if you exercise later in the day,” says S.K. Gupta, senior consultant cardiologist at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals in the Capital. “Heart disease happens when the blood flow is blocked and cholesterol builds up in the arteries, and sitting does both effectively,” he says, adding that it’s essential to stand for 8 minutes and stretch for 2 minutes for every half-hour of sitting.
Remind yourself constantly to get up for a drink, stand in meetings, sit on something uncomfortable and wobbly like an exercise ball or backless stool and be constantly on the move, says Dr Gupta. And always take the stairs.
One of the most harmful habits among working professionals is bad ergonomics. “Most people spend hours slouched in front of the computer, sitting on furniture that’s not ergonomically designed, which damages muscles, tendons and nerves of the neck, shoulders, forearms and hands,” says Yash Gulati, senior consultant, orthopaedics, at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals. This can lead to conditions like repetitive strain injury, tendonitis, chronic pain around the joints and carpal tunnel syndrome.
The solution is ergonomic furniture and constant movement. If your company is not investing in furniture, focus on your posture, says Delhi-based fitness expert Vesna Pericevic Jacob. “Sit on the chair with your feet in line with your Iliac crest, the bony area across your lower belly, your pelvis either at the same level or slightly higher than the knee. Your knee should be at an angle of 90-105 degrees, and the soles of the feet should be flat on the floor,” she says. Keep the stomach relaxed and lengthen your lower back, constantly pulling your neck upwards and shoulders back. If the right posture becomes second nature, says Jacob, a lot of aches and pains will recede.
Rest your eyes
Staring at a phone, tablet or computer screen constantly causes stress and fatigues the eyes. “The human eye structurally is more relaxed when it looks at objects more than 6m away, so to look at anything closer puts extra pressure on the eye muscles, causing fatigue and leading to symptoms like blurred vision, temporary inability to focus on faraway objects and headaches,” says D.S. Chadha, additional director, internal medicine, at the Fortis Flt Lt Rajan Dhall Hospital in Delhi. Don’t keep any screen too close to your eyes, put it either at eye level or slightly lower, and reduce the contrast and brightness. Take breaks to look at faraway objects and have regular eye examinations, he adds.
Take breaks in between
There are just a few hours every day when we can all concentrate. Working longer than that is bad for the heart and blood pressure, says Mukesh Mehra, senior consultant, internal medicine, at the Max Super Speciality Hospital in Delhi.
A study published in 2015 in The Lancet journal, which looked at 600,000 individuals in Australia, the US and UK, found that people who work for more than 55 hours a week have a 33% greater risk of stroke and 13% greater risk of coronary heart disease. “If you have to work long hours, minimize the stress by taking regular breaks for yoga, meditation and exercise,” says Dr Mehra.
Jacob says there is an easy technique to practise meditation for 10 minutes every day: “Inhale deeply until your stomach fully extends and then pull your navel in towards your spine as you exhale.”
Don’t skip lunch
Never skip lunch and never have it at the desk. Eating lunch at the desk invites germs to the work area, says Dr Chadha. And skipping it will lead to sluggishness and irritability, and fog up your brain and thinking abilities.
Also, take a stroll daily after lunch—this will boost your vitamin D levels and improve your digestive system and oxygen levels. “A walk refreshes you and brings greater clarity and intelligence for the post-lunch work session,” adds Dr Chadha.
Follow strict hygiene
There’s no bigger turn-off than bad breath. Smelly armpits or teeth with food stuck in between are both offensive to colleagues and bad for your career, says Rahul Tambe, physician, general medicine, at Mumbai’s Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital. “Brush your teeth regularly or at least twice a day and use a mouthwash after having food during working hours,” he suggests. Stay away from smelly foods like garlic, onion and pickles, and avoid smoking or chewing tobacco. In addition, consult your dentist regularly to rule out dental problems.
To keep the body odour-free, use a deodorant, bathe regularly and wear neat clothes. And carry a hand sanitizer for those business handshakes. “Needless to say, use soap or hand wash before and after meals and, of course, after using the washroom,” says Dr Tambe.
Insist on air purification
Most air-conditioned office buildings are closed spaces, where the same toxic air is circulated again and again. This can clog your lungs, a condition known as the Sick Building Syndrome. “Often, the air inside a building can be up to 100 times dirtier than outside, and one gets exposed to a variety of unhealthy gases and chemicals. The pollutants from the air conditioners; toxic particles, such as the potentially deadly ozone released by the photocopiers if the filter isn’t changed periodically, and other dangerous bacteria flying around can be harmful,” says Manav Manchanda, senior consultant pulmonologist at the Asian Institute of Medical Sciences in Faridabad, adjoining Delhi. “Employees must insist that the office administration employ a reliable agency to conduct indoor air quality tests regularly,” he suggests.
Choose healthy snacks
“If there’s been a long gap between meals, we tend to reach out for a snack to get an energy spike,” says Carlyne Remedios, senior nutritionist at the Centre for Obesity and Digestive Surgery in Mumbai. The spike lasts for 20-30 minutes, leading to another craving, which makes you reach for a snack again. These spikes and crashes in sugar level leave you feeling irritable, sluggish and drowsy while adding inches to your waistline, says Remedios. Stock up on healthy options for snacks, like fruits, roasted chana, unsweetened muesli, dry fruits and nuts, and stay away from all sugary items, including juices, sodas, biscuits and fried food, says Remedios.
Keep sipping on water
It’s easy to forget about drinking water when you’re in an air-conditioned office all day, but try not to. The body constantly loses water through perspiration, leading to exhaustion, headaches and cramps, and eventually clouding your thinking. “Water forms the basis of blood, digestive juices, lean mass and bones, and the only way to get it into our body is to drink it,” says Remedios. Constantly sip from a bottle of water and make sure you refill your 1-litre bottle at least thrice a day. “And don’t ignore calls to the loo,” says Dr Chadha, “as that stretches your bladder, builds up germs and causes urinary tract infections.”
Limit coffee intake
Coffee or tea might give you a shot of caffeine when you’re tired, but drinking too much of this can cause headaches, heartburn and anxiety. “Up to 400mg of caffeine a day, which is about four small cups of brewed coffee, is safe for most healthy adults. When you hit that number, switch to decaf or, better still, plain water,” says Dr Chadha. Also try and replace regular teas with herbal or green teas.
Don’t take work home
“Responding to official calls, messages and emails post-work hours exhausts the mind and strains the body,” says Samir Parikh, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences at the Fortis Memorial Research Institute in Gurgaon, near Delhi. Instead, establishing clear boundaries for a work-life balance makes you more efficient. “Exit office at a certain time every day, don’t entertain any work-related call or message after office hours, and spend quality time with your friends and family,” says Dr Parikh. And if you do have to stay back late at work for reasons that can’t be avoided, ask your boss to let you start late the next day so that you can catch up on sleep.
Don’t let your boss rule your life
In a Swedish study published in the journal Occupational And Environmental Medicine in 2008, researchers tracked the heart health of 3,122 male employees, aged 19-70, over nearly a decade. All the participants were asked to rate the leadership style of their senior managers. The staff who deemed their senior managers the least competent had a 25% higher risk of suffering a serious heart problem. And those working for a boss like that for a long time—four years or more—had a 64% higher risk.
Another study, published in 2011 in the Journal Of Business And Psychology, reported that the psychological climate in which you work has a lot to do with your health and happiness. And it can affect the employee’s family too. “It’s true that the stress and tension caused by an abusive boss at work can filter through to an employee’s personal relationships and family, ultimately causing serious problems. I see multiple cases like this every week, where marriages get destroyed due to work stress,” says Jyoti Sangle, psychiatrist at the Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital in Powai, Mumbai. “Even though it sounds like a cliché, the solution here is to train people in how to keep their work and home life separate,” she says.
Choose a morning shift, if possible
“I have noticed a clear link between shift work and weight gain and increased appetite—both of which are risk factors for diabetes,” says S.M. Bandukwala, diabetologist at the Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital. Compared to regular working hours in the morning, working in shifts carries a 9% higher risk of developing diabetes, shows a study published in the Occupational And Environmental Medicine journal in 2014. According to the study, the risk is higher in men (37% more likely), and even higher for those with rotational shifts. Those who work rotating shift patterns, in which they regularly work in different timings of the 24-hour cycle, have a 42% higher risk of diabetes than those who work in fixed shifts, say the researchers.
“It’s clear that while everyone should be careful, those working in shifts must make an extra effort to reduce their risk of diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight, doing regular physical activity, eating a healthy balanced diet and consciously moving about while in office,” says Dr Bandukwala.
You may not be able to change your office environment, building structure and work hours, but you can certainly do your bit to minimize the dangers by taking proactive steps. After all, health is wealth,” says Dr Navneet Kaur.
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