The Health Hazards of Desktop Dining

It’s after noon. You still need lunch but have deadlines looming. What do you do? For the majority of Americans desktop dining is the standard for lunch in the workplace. But this practice is harming both employees’ health and the company’s bottom line. We’ve taken a bite at this issue and have suggestions for turning sedentary health hazards into healthy habits.

 

Health Hazard #1: Sitting is the new smoking.

Nearly two-thirds of professionals admit to regularly eating lunch at their desk. Researchers have linked prolonged periods of sitting (inactivity) with serious lifestyle-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Physically active individuals are not immune. Sitting increases the risk for disease in those who regularly exercise, and the risk went up for every two hours of sitting.

Health Habit: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans prescribes 150 minutes of moderately-intense exercise every week for adults. For many, the thought of 2 hours and 30 minutes of exercise each week is overwhelming, The good news is that 10 minutes at a time is fine. Taking a 10-minute brisk walk at lunch will not only help your physical health, it can improve mental clarity and problem solving.

Health Hazard #2: Fewer breaks equals less productivity.

It would seem counterintuitive that taking time away from the work day to exercise means less time to get work completed. Yet exercise many just be what the doctor ordered for higher work productivity. Neuroscience studies conducted over decades show there is “a robust link between aerobic exercise and subsequent cognitive clarity.” (ScienceOfUs.com, April 21, 2016.)

Health Habit: In other words, taking time for 30-40 minutes of aerobic activity, particularly running, can provide increased blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for planning ahead, focus, concentration, goal setting, and time management.

Health Hazard #3: Prolonged sitting leads to muscle pain.

Muscles are the healthiest and body alignment at its best when the body is put through a full range of motion every day. For a moment, just think about how much we sit. We may have a 30-minute (or longer) commute to work, work an eight-or nine-hour day, drive home, and then sit at kids’ activities or dinner. Not including sleeping (we’ll use a seven-hour night’s sleep for the sake of this example), we could be sitting upwards of 70% or more of our day. Remaining in a seated position, or being lunched over a computer or mobile device for most of the day, especially when poor posture is involved, puts strain on the hip flexors, low back, shoulders and neck.

Health Habit: Take several five- to 10 – minute breaks during the day to stretch muscles.  Try these stretching exercises from Blue Cross Blue Shield that can be incorporated into your work day.

Health Hazard #4: Inactivity and depression are linked.

The Journal of Preventive Medicine found that in the 9,000 women studied, those who sat longer and did not meet the minimum requirements for daily physical activity had higher rates of depression than those who sat less and exercised more.

Health Habit: The Mayo Clinic reports that “Regular exercise probably helps ease depression in a number of ways, which may include releasing feel-good brain chemicals that may ease depression (neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids) and reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression.” In addition, “regular exercise has many psychological and emotional benefits, too. It can help you gain confidence. Meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence. Getting in shape can also make you feel better about your appearance. Take your mind off worries. Exercise is a distraction that can get you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression.”

Health Hazard #5: Decreased workplace satisfaction and collaboration.

Workplaces are a space for innovation and collaboration which happens both in formal meetings and informal gatherings, like sharing lunch. When time with coworkers is satisfying it allows for refreshed thinking, workplace satisfaction, and, as a result, higher productivity.

Health Habit: While it may not be possible to get away every day, take time each week to push away from your desk and enjoy lunch with your colleagues.