For most of us who work in office jobs, staying fit and healthy when you’re sitting at your desk all day can be a bit of a challenge, and the extra kilos can start to creep on. You know you have to start worrying when your backside starts resembling the shape of your chair seat.
Research has shown that the longer we spend sitting, the greater our chances of dying prematurely from heart disease and other causes – and that’s even if we exercise regularly. It’s bad enough that many of us spend most of our days sitting at our computers, talking on the phone or sitting around in meetings … but many of us then go home and sit in front of the TV for hours at a time.
We all know what we’re supposed to do: eat plenty of fruit and vegies, exercise, don’t eat sugary and fatty foods. But as you sit at your desk feeling bored and peckish, the bickie tin and muffin tray can act like a siren call, and going to the gym after work can be the last thing you feel like after a long, tiring day.
But this is your health we’re talking about, and it’s worth making the effort. It’s all about developing healthy habits – and you might find yourself looking and feeling so much better that you don’t even miss your donut-munching, couch potato ways. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Kickstart your day with a nutritious, filling breakfast that will carry you through to lunch. Many popular cereals are loaded with sugar so try unsweetened muesli with yoghurt and honey, oatmeal, or wholemeal toast with eggs or beans – the extra protein will keep hunger at bay and keep your energy levels steady. Whatever you do, avoid the coffee-and-danish – after the initial hit your sugar levels will plummet and you’ll be gnawing on your arm by mid-morning.
You don’t have to be an avid gym junkie to get ‘exercise’ – any incidental movement throughout the day helps. It’s all about muscle contraction – anything goes as long as you’re not just sitting in your chair. That means you should get up and walk around regularly, even if it’s just for a stretch and a jaunt down the hallway. Walk over to your colleague’s desk rather than sending an email, and take the stairs rather than the lift, even if it’s just for a floor or two.
Some workplaces are even introducing height-adjustable desks so people can stand while they’re working, which could become a common workplace practice in the future.
There are many healthy lunch choices available at most delis and cafes, from sushi to salad and wholegrain sandwiches. Be sure to include some protein in your lunch, as this will fill you up more.
Even better, make your own lunch at work or bring it in. Leftovers from the previous night’s dinner are always a good option. You can prepare your food just how you like it, avoid rich dressings and sauces, and save money while you’re at it.
As tempting as it is to reach into the bickie tin for a sweet snack break, highly processed foods full of sugar or fat are a surefire recipe for Expanding Waist Syndrome. Try snacking on fresh fruit, sliced vegetables with hummus, low-fat yoghurt or a handful of nuts. Remember that going for something sweet and insubstantial won’t fill you up and will cause your blood sugar level to crash later.
It’s important to drink plenty of water, especially in dry, air-conditioned office environments. It will help keep you hydrated and will also help stave off hunger.
Sipping on soft drinks or even 'healthy' juices all day can add an alarming number of calories to your daily load. With an average of 150 to 200 calories per bottle, these sugary drinks won’t do your waistline any favours. Drinking unsweetened tea is a good way to stay hydrated while getting an antioxidant boost.
As easy as it may be to eat lunch at your desk and work straight through, it’s always a good idea to get out for some fresh air and a little walk. Find yourself a walking buddy and meet up for lunchtime outings. Even better would be to go to a gym or yoga class – you’ll come back to the office feeling energised and refreshed.
Many people tend to eat more and indulge in comfort eating when they’re stressed so it’s important to manage your stress and learn to relax for the sake of your mental and physical wellbeing. Stress hormones contribute to weight gain, especially in the abdominal area, as well as food cravings – so meditation, exercise and anything else that helps you relax will benefit you both internally and externally.
Adequate sleep is obviously important for us to stay healthy and alert at work, but recent research has shown that lack of sleep leads to reduced levels of leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone, and increased levels of ghrelin, a hormone which increases appetite. Not surprisingly, those who don’t sleep enough (less than seven or eight hours) are more prone to weight gain, obesity and also diabetes. That should give you more than enough reason to get to bed at a decent hour – you’ll bound into work bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, get more done and eat less!
This is an obvious one but is always worth reiterating. Choose an activity that you enjoy and will feel motivated to continue – join a gym or other sporting group, or start up an activity at work like team soccer, or a walking or running group. And make the most of the weekends – go for a walk, swim or bike ride, and enjoy the fresh air. You’ll look and feel so much better for it.
Staying healthy and trim while working in an office requires commitment and effort, but it doesn’t have to be about fanaticism and deprivation. If your daily habits are healthy ones, you can afford the occasional indulgence – a drink or two, a nice meal, some dark chocolate – it’s all about balance. If you find foods and activities that you enjoy, your new habits won’t feel like a chore at all, and you’ll love the benefits you reap.