When you think of high-risk occupations, it's usually firefighters, crane operators, and bomb defusers that come to mind. But even seemingly innocuous work environments (home offices included!) can pose a health threat. "Most of us are swept up in day-to-day minutiae, so you may not even realize the tollÃ¢â‚¬”both physical and psychologicalÃ¢â‚¬”your job may be taking on you," says Bryan Robinson, Ph.D., author of Chained to the Desk. Here, what you need to know to stay strong.
Get in Position
Women who park it for more than six hours a day are 37 percent more likely to dieÃ¢â‚¬”from any causeÃ¢â‚¬”than those who sit for fewer than three, regardless of how much gym time they clock. And if your job requires you to be on your feet all day, that isn't much better. Studies have linked prolonged standing to lower-back and foot pain, as well as pregnancy complications.
If you stand while working...
Supportive shoes are a must. "Look for styles that protect your arches and the backs of your heels, and have enough cushion for shock absorption," says Marlene Reid, D.P.M., a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association. And forget super-flat shoes, says Reid: "They don't encourage proper foot motion, so stick with a quarter-inch to half-inch heel." If you experience discomfort, see a podiatrist for a proper evaluation. She may suggest customized orthotic inserts to prevent injury. Two other options: Stand on an antifatigue mat to absorb some of the pressure (find one for about $20 at lowes.com) or keep a footstool around so you can alternate standing on one leg while resting the other.
If you sit at your job...
Try a sit-stand desk, like the Ergotron Sit-Stand Workstation ($379, ergotron.com for stores), which has an adjustable arm that allows you to raise and lower your computer screen and keyboard so you can alternate between sitting and standing. You can also buy foot pedals (Standard Pedal Exerciser, $20, isokineticsinc.com) that let you cycle while you sit. Otherwise, grab a pedometer and try to rack up 10,000 steps a dayÃ¢â‚¬”the figure one Arizona State University study cites as a reasonable amount of daily activity for healthy adults.
Work isn't meant to be relaxingÃ¢â‚¬”if it were, it would be called play. While you can't change the fact that your job can be a pressure cooker, you can change how you respond to stress with these strategies.
Take a minute of silence.
Constantly responding to stimuli can be exhausting, says Deb Shapiro, coauthor of Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World. But it takes only 60 seconds of quiet time to recharge. Take five slow, deep breaths, suggests Shapiro.
Go out for lunch.
Dining away from your desk is another important way to refresh and recharge, yet only 17 percent of us head out to nosh, according to a survey from the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods. "Changing your surroundings, even if it's only for 20 minutes, not only gives your fatigued mind a break but also boosts your mood," says Robinson.
Smell minty scents.
Researchers at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia have found that sniffing peppermint can actually up your motivation level. So keep peppermint tea, lip balm, and lotion on hand.
Give your desk a makeover.
Stress usually stems from feeling overwhelmed and out of control, and if your work area looks as if a tornado hit it, that will only add to the growing tension. "Tidying upÃ¢â‚¬”even just a littleÃ¢â‚¬”will help create a sense of calm," says Shapiro.
Watch the overtime.
Research shows that an extra three-plus hours of work a day can make your risk for heart disease 1.6 times greater. Reduce your O.T. in incremental steps: If you work 10 extra hours a week, plan to cut back to nine this week, then eight the following, until you're leaving on time most days. Another trick: Deliver the message that "yes means no." If you say, "I could stay longer to get this done, if you like?" (emphasizing the could and intonating up at the end of the sentence), you'll deliver a message to the boss's subconscious that you could, but it's not a desirable solution.
Wipe Out Germs
To stay healthy at work, you may want to ratchet up your hygiene standards, starting with your desk, which (not to freak you out or anything) typically has 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat, according to Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a microbiologist at the University of Arizona. People touch germy phones and keyboards, then usher microscopic bacteria into their mouth, eyes, and nose about 16 times an hour, he says.
Disinfect your desk.
Your phone, computer mouse, and keyboard harbor the most ickiness. You can swipe a disinfecting wipe over all three, says Gerba. But keyboards can be tricky: Get at hard-to-reach spots with the sticky part of a Post-it, then wipe between each key with a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol.
Exercise at Your Desk
Being sedentary can cause your body to s-p-r-e-a-d. WH advisor and exercise physiologist Cassandra Forsythe, Ph.D., suggests these easy ways to get moving.
Triceps Bench Dips
Grip the front edge of your chair and place your feet on the floor in front of you, knees bent. Keeping your arms straight, scoot forward so your butt hovers in the air. Bend your arms to lower your butt. Stop when your upper arms are parallel to the floor, then push back up. Do 10 reps.
Stand with your feet together, hands on your hips, and abs engaged. Step forward with your right leg and lower into a lunge, ideally until your front thigh is parallel to the ground. With a straight back, push off your front leg to return to start. Switch sides and repeat 10 times.
Freestanding Body-Weight Squat
Stand tall with your heels hip-width apart and feet angled out slightly. Bend your knees and lower your pelvis until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor; at the same time, extend your arms forward. Push through your heels to return to start. Do 10 reps.