10 ways to stay healthy at work

By Vivian Miezianko
Northwest Asian Weekly

Work, work, work… It’s obvious the hours spent at work can be physically and mentally demanding, but spending long periods of time in offices, shops, or kitchens can be unhealthy in less obvious ways — think of the adverse effects of prolonged sitting or standing and the hygiene traps of sharing a space.

What can you do to keep sickness and body ache at bay while working?

Here are 10 ways to keep healthy at work.

Workplace hygiene

1. Wash your hands often with soap and water “for 20 seconds,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Make sure to wash your hands after sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose. In an article titled “How to Stay Healthy at Work” on usnews.com, Angela Haupt mentions hand washing “before and after eating.” Moreover, “avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes,” as this is a way you can spread bacteria, warns the CDC. Instead, sneeze and cough “into your elbow” or cover your sneezes and coughs with a tissue. Also avoid chewing on your pencils, sticking paper clips in your mouth, or licking your thumb to turn a page, writes Haupt.

2. Keep your common surfaces, such as telephones and computer keyboards, and avoid using your coworkers’ phones, desks, or other work tools. If you need to use a coworker’s equipment, “clean it first.” In the aforementioned article, Haupt also writes about the importance of ensuring that “[k]itchen sink handles, refrigerator and microwave handles, kitchen countertops … and water fountain buttons” are wiped daily, since “germs can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours.”

3. Do not leave “half-eaten food on your desk or in your drawers,” says Haupt, even if the food looks alright to you, as it still attracts “viruses and bacteria.” Do you sometimes forget to put your leftover lunch in the fridge?

Healthy eating

4. Are you tempted by the vending machine in the hallway or your coworker’s bowl of chocolate every day around four o’ clock? Dr. Mona Fahoum, ND, of the University Health Clinic in Seattle, recommends keeping “healthy snacks in your desk.” Each week, bring “a few pieces of fruit, some nuts [or] seeds, and some peanut butter and rice cakes. They will keep fine without refrigeration and will provide a healthy pick-me-up through the day, so that the donuts and candy can be avoided,” said Fahoum. In addition, “keep a water bottle at your desk to stay hydrated.” Your goal should be to take in 64 ounces of fluid daily.

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Hand washing is an easy way to cut down on germ exposure. (Photo by Omae)

Combating mental fatigue

5. In the above abcnews.com article, Dr. Marc Berman, a post-doctoral research fellow at Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, advises office workers to leave the cubicles and “experience nature” by taking a walk in the park. In a published academic paper, Berman found that people improved their “working memory span by about 20 percent after a 50-minute nature walk.” And the results were similar “when participants were asked to view pictures from nature for 10 minutes.” The idea is that during a walk in the nature, people’s depleted attention used in the workplace may be recovered. Berman further states, “Be aware of mental fatigue,” which signals that you should take a break, and when you do, take a “true break” — if you don’t work near a park, amble along a quiet street. Also “[h]ave pictures of nature in your office or get a plant.” Having a window helps, as having a bit of nature outside “can lead to greater productivity.”

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Small things, like sitting on exercise balls at work, can quickly add up. (Photo by Ryan Inc.)

Keep moving

6. Sitting at a desk for long hours is unhealthy. Fahoum recommends that “you get up and move or stretch a few times a day. Especially stretch out fingers, wrists, and shoulders” to prevent conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, and also “do a few sidebands or hamstrings stretches.” Luis Feigenbaum, chief of service and director of sports physical therapy at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, states in the abcnews.com article the reason why taking breaks is important. Many lower back problems “happen from just sitting for a long period of time,” which weakens the muscles. Besides stretching, you can deliver messages or packages to your co-workers in person and “take the steps” often.

7. “Utilize your office furniture” that can double as exercise equipment, suggests Leah Britt, a personal trainer and clinical nutritionist at Premier Fitness Camp in Utah, in the same article. For instance, doing push-ups by leaning against the desk and pushing yourself away. You may also keep a small set of dumbbells under your desk and sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair, which can help posture and keep the abdominal muscles tight, Britt says.

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Good health begins with a good workstation that stresses good posture. (Photo by Yukata Tsutano)

Office ergonomics

8. In an article entitled “Office ergonomics: Your how-to guide” by the Mayo Clinic, the staff of the clinic shares tips on staying comfortable at work. For example, your computer monitor should be directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away, the top of the screen being “slightly below eye level.” The height of your chair should be at a level where “your feet rest comfortably on the floor and your knees are about level with your hips.” You may use a footrest if your chair is too high for you to place your feet on the floor. Utilize a wrist rest. Rest the heels or palms of your hands, not your wrists, on the wrist rest during typing breaks. Hold your hands and wrists above the wrist rest when typing.

And if you are on the phone frequently while typing, try a headset.

Posture

9. In Mayo Clinic’s “Back pain at work: Preventing pain and injury,” the clinic staff offers tips on promoting good posture. If your office chair does not support your lower back’s curve, “place a rolled towel or small pillow behind your lower back.” And remove your cell phone or wallet from your back pocket while sitting to “prevent putting pressure on your buttocks” or lower back. If you stand for hours, rest one foot “on a stool or small box” occasionally.

10. If your work involves lifting and carrying heavy objects, the Mayo Clinic staff suggests that you “lift with your knees and tighten your core muscles.” In maintaining the natural curve of your back, “[h]old the object close to your body and lift it between your legs.” (end)

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov, www.health.usnews.com, www.abcnews.go.com, and www.mayoclinic.com.

Dr. Mona Fahoum is a naturopathic family practitioner at the University Health Clinic in Seattle. For more information, visit www.theuhc.com.

Vivian Miezianko can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

3 Responses to “10 ways to stay healthy at work”

  1. Melissa says:

    There are many things that can help staving off fatigue and other health related issues from sitting at work. There are chairs made specifically for keeping your posture correct, as well as standing workstations and anti-fatigue mats if you’re willing to go that route. There is a lot of nice ergonomic information and products here: http://www.gotopac.com

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