7 Nasty Health Threats to Avoid at the Office
Last Updated: Feb 16, 2017
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“Sitting is the new smoking.” You’ve likely heard that one before — from doctors, wellness experts and article headlines. Maybe you’re even one of those former desk jockeys who’s ditched the office chair for a standing desk. Smart move. But sitting isn’t the only bad habit that’s keeping 9-to-5ers from getting and staying healthy. Here are seven other common office threats that can definitely throw you off course, along with some expert advice on what you can do to combat them.
THE THREAT: CONTAGIOUS CO-WORKERS
Erik Miranda, M.D., a doctor with Dignity Health-GoHealth Urgent Care, says there are two main ways flu and cold viruses get passed around: contaminated surfaces and coughing or sniffling people around you. Try as you might to avoid your co-workers’ germs, it’s hard to stay healthy when a domino effect kicks off and a cold gets passed around the office from person to person.
“The best way to protect yourself against those pesky germs is to wash your hands as frequently as possible,” Dr. Erik Miranda says. Make it a point to get your flu shot every year, and increase your daily vitamin C intake if it seems like a bug is going around. Finally, if you’re in a leadership position, encourage your team members to work from home when they’re sick so the entire office doesn’t come down with the flu at the same time, health coach Jennifer Gibson says.
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THE THREAT: GERMY SURFACES
Even if your co-workers are sniffle-free, bacteria coat nearly every surface in the office. A 2012 study found that sink faucet handles in the break room, microwave door handles and keyboards are the three spots in the office most covered with germs.
Go ahead: Be that person who obsessively swabs down the desk with a disinfectant wipe every day (and don’t forget your phone and keyboard), Dr. Erik Miranda says. Your co-workers may view you as an overly cautious germophobe, but dealing with that reputation sure beats the heck out of catching what everyone else has!
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THE THREAT: FREE FOOD IN THE CAFETERIA
These days, companies commonly lure employees by offering free lunches, bagel Mondays, soda machines and unlimited snacks. Those sound like some pretty sweet little perks — that is until you consider the free meals usually come in the form of high-calorie comfort food you usually do everything you can to avoid. “The reality is your house can be completely free of junk food and [stocked with nothing but] totally clean food, but we spend a vast majority of our daytime in an office setting, and that gives you so much opportunity to not have control over your environment,” says Jennifer Gibson, head of nutrition and coaching at Vida Health.
“Don’t get to the point when you’re too hungry,” health coach Jennifer Gibson says. “If you come into the office and see a whole bunch of bagels and doughnuts sitting there and you haven’t had breakfast yet, it’s definitely going to be really tempting.” Plan ahead to eat a healthy breakfast before leaving for the office if you know a giant box of doughnuts will be waiting there to greet you on arrival. And keep healthy snacks stashed in your desk drawer so you can reach for those instead of the free pizza in the office kitchen.
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THE THREAT: NEVER-ENDING STRESS
Demanding clients. Nearly impossible deadlines. Needy colleagues. Stress is no stranger to the traditional office worker, and it can rear its ugly head at any time and in many different and surprising ways. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress can suppress your immune system, mess with your normal digestive functions and, as anyone who’s worked on a high-profile project on a time crunch knows, it can interfere with sleep. If the stress sticks around, more serious issues, such as heart disease, diabetes and depression, can eventually come into play.
“Yoga, meditation and mindfulness exercises have all been shown to reduce stress,” Dr. Erik Miranda says. “If they can be incorporated into your schedule, do it.” Consider downloading a meditation app, such as Stop, Breathe & Think, and listening to the guided meditation when you’re able to take a 10-minute break.
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THE THREAT: 12-HOUR DAYS
A 12-hour day every now and again is par for the course for many people. But when you’re consistently logging those long days, you may eventually notice that your overall well-being takes a big hit.
Take back control of your day. If your calendar is jam-packed with meetings, ask yourself whether it’s absolutely crucial for you to attend them all. “A lot of people, when scheduling meetings, include many invitees just in case they want to join,” says health coach Jennifer Gibson. “But feel free to exercise your option to step out of a meeting if you don’t think you’re going to get anything out of it.” Gibson also suggests embracing the fine art of delegating tasks. Are there colleagues or resources that can take some of the load off your shoulders? If so, don’t hesitate to ask for help.
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THE THREAT: POOR POSTURE
The all-too-common desk pose — hunched shoulders and curved spine with your neck and head extended toward the computer screen — isn’t doing your body any favors. “Poor desk posture commonly leads to upper-back and neck pain,” Dr. Erik Miranda says. That can negatively affect your well-being, he says, as well as your energy levels, according to a 2012 article published in the journal Biofeedback.
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Be mindful about your posture and how you carry your shoulders when you’re sitting, Dr. Erik Miranda says. You might also consider incorporating a few stealthy stretches into your workday. “In a more formal work environment it might feel awkward to get up and do exercises in front of everyone, but you can do desk stretches or even squats if you have a little bit of a private space — just to get the blood flowing,” health coach Jennifer Gibson says. Try performing downward-facing dog to help increase blood flow back to your brain and counter that draining midday slump, she says.
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THE THREAT: TOO MUCH SCREEN TIME
Most office workers don’t realize three or four hours have gone by since they stepped away from their desks, health coach Jennifer Gibson says. It’s the new normal, as the average American adult spends almost 11 hours a day in front of a screen, according to a Nielsen report. The result? Eventually, your eyes will feel strained and dry, and dull, achy headaches will start to creep in, Dr. Erik Miranda says.
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Place an anti-glare screen on your computer to lessen the negative effects, Dr. Erik Miranda suggests. And be diligent about periodically stepping away from the screen. Set a timer for every two to three hours to remind you or make that break non-negotiable by constantly sipping water throughout the day, health coach Jennifer Gibson says. You’ll stay hydrated, and you’ll have built-in breaks every few hours when you need to get up to go to the bathroom.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Do you face any of these health threats on a daily basis? Which ones? What do you do to keep yourself healthy? Have you tried any of the suggestions on this list? Which ones do you think you might try? Share your suggestions and stories in the comments section below!
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