We live in a technology-driven society, making our day-to-day tasks stationed at a desk. Therefore, our lives are more sedentary. We’ve been less physically active for years now, yet our lives are more chaotic, demanding and stressful than ever. This all makes carving out time and having the energy to increase our movement incredibly challenging.
So, could one answer to the complex equation be that we should think about reformatting our day-to-day activities to incorporate more natural physical activity? This can be in a variety of forms:
• Walking to the job site, rather than taking shuttles from parking lots and garages
Yes, you may need to plan extra time in the morning and the evening to get to and from work, but a good 10 minute walk each way can really add to your daily activity. It’s similar to parking in the further parking spot at the store, except it has a chance for bigger impacts depending on the distance from your car to the worksite.
• Incorporating walk and talk meetings
Why do our meetings, especially one-on-ones, need to take place seated at a desk? Walk outside or create a little walking path within the walkways of your building to gain some steps while talking.
• Utilizing breaks
Even 10-15 minutes in the morning or afternoon or possibly your 30-60 minute lunch would be a good opportunity to get in some steps, walk the stairs or even do some light strength training. A personal trainer and co-worker with me at Ochsner Fitness Center, Margaret Mrozek, recommends easy stretch-like activities such as:
• Shoulder circles for those of us hunched over computers all day
• Backward leg lunges (stabilizing yourself on your desk, as necessary)
• Side leg lunges
• Push-ups against a wall or desk
If you work in cubicles, you may feel odd doing this next to your desk, but it might just encourage others to join in with you and promote a healthier environment in the workplace. Lunch breaks may give you more freedom to step away from the office area, if you want to start solo or have some more privacy, depending on your comfort level.
Sure, these may not all get your heart rate up or put your muscles to the test like a more intense workout, but then again, if you’re more likely to do some of these, it’s absolutely better than nothing. It’s maximizing your limited time, making you more proficient when you do get back to your work and improving your mental and physical health.
If you are really passionate about your health and nutrition, you can even become your own advocate to work towards changes in food that is offered at the workplace.
Lunch Meetings – The most common lunch offered during workday meetings often includes a sandwich with chips and a cookie. Nutritionally, that entails not much else than a whole bunch of carbs. I’m not one to complain about this occasionally, but if this happens frequently in your work week, it’s an area to inquire about some better balance. What about a lettuce wrap or cucumber roll? These are often available from various restaurants that cater. Sure, 100% whole grain bread on sandwiches is nutritious, but it’s often more a mix of whole-grain and wheat flours (enriched flours), which is less nutritious but still carb-rich. And while carbs are not bad for you, especially fiber-rich whole-grain ones, when combined with other high sugar options like cookies and nutrient poor chips, you’re left with high calories from carbs that leave you full momentarily, but leaving you crashing in energy and searching for something else to satisfy your hunger within no time at all. Serving sandwiches but switching up the sides to skip the chips and serve a veggie or salad would be better options. You could serve fruit in place of the cookie. Again, I’m not saying any of these are bad, I personally enjoy a good cookie but do we really need these in the frequency and size they are offered at these events?
Break Rooms – All too often, this is the place to find donuts. Every once in a while, having one is okay, even healthy, and allowing yourself that grace will diminish the appeal of wanting things like this often. But if there are particular co-workers, clients or vendors that bring in these items, you can work with them to offer better options.
Vending Machines – Candy, chips and treats galore aren’t bad in moderation, but if this is your go-to snack, then you might want to rethink how you can better serve your energy and appetite with more nutritious options. If you can bring items from home you may be better off, but there are some things already in vending machines you can pick if they are available. If they aren’t, here is where you can advocate with the vending company to see what else can be stocked. Small packs of nuts (under 200-250 calories), whole grain chips like Beanitos, Sun Chips, Food Should Taste Good chips, even some lower sugar protein bars like Think Thin, Quest and some KIND bars could be available.
Parties – Special occasions like the holidays can be (rightfully-so) associated with beloved and comfort foods, and to some extent, these special occasions don’t need to be altered. If lunches, break room habits and vending options were made healthier, the true holiday celebrations could be enjoyed without modifications. But if this is an area you see some potential room for growth as well, there’s a variety of ways to make it more nutritious and still delicious. My favorite happens to be bringing a dish to share that you enjoy, maybe it’s different from what is expected but still festive and of course needs to be just as delicious. Think about lean proteins and veggies to mix up all the carb-heavy dishes that are sure to make an appearance. Bacon wrapped fruit or veggies like figs, dates, melons or asparagus; homemade slow cooker meatballs made from extra lean ground beef or ground turkey breast and roasted root vegetables are all festive and flavorful options that also offer a balance of fats, fibers and/or protein compared to the starch-rich casseroles and dishes.
There are occasions that I fully believe can be enjoyed without modifications, whether some would consider the food choices nutritious or not. But depending on how often these events takes place, there can be room for improvement, especially as the workplace culture shifts to be more conscientious of personal health and wellness goals. Setting up physical activity or nutrition-related challenges among your colleagues can be a great way to get the workplace shifted to a more health and wellness-promoted environment.
Rebecca Miller, MPH, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist and shares recipes on her blog, Twisted Nutrition. She can be reached through her blog or followed on facebook & Instagram @TwistedNutrition.