5 Unhealthy Workplace Habits to Break in 2015

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Primary Care Physician at One Medical Group
5 min read
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While building a new business, you might develop habits that have a negative affect on your health. The time you once might have devoted to keeping fit and cooking healthy meals is dedicated instead to spreadsheets, presentations and meetings.

While it can be intimidating to make major shifts toward setting up a healthy lifestyle, making incremental but effective improvements in your everyday routine will substantially improve your well-being. 

Here are five unhealthy workplace habits to break in 2015 and some ways to take steps toward better health now:

Related: Prioritizing Health Can Help You and Your Business

1. Sitting all day.

If you’re a busy entrepreneur, chances are you’re sitting down on the job. Americans spend more than half their waking hours in sedentary positions. In addition to back pain, chronic sitting has been associated with serious health consequences like weight gain, diabetes and heart disease.

A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the more time subjects spent sitting during the day, the greater their chances of dying from all causes, including cancer and heart disease.

And forget about offsetting those risks with a daily gym session: The study indicated that regular exercise won’t counteract the effects of too many hours spent sitting.

Standing up for just a few minutes every hour can do wonders for your well-being. Set an hourly alarm to remind yourself to rise, stretch and take a lap around the office. If you must remain seated for long periods, consider bringing in some good-posture reinforcement: The Lumo Back is a device that can be strapped around the lower back and core, reminding a person through gentle vibrations to sit up straight. 

2. Eating lunch alone at the desk.

According to a survey conducted by Right Management, 65 percent of Americans eat lunch at their desks or don’t take a break at all, leading to more sitting and less social interaction.

Social isolation has a profound impact on longevity. A 2010 meta-analysis found that quality interpersonal connections not only influenced mental health but morbidity and mortality as well. Those with strong social relationships had a 50 percent increase in their odds of survival.

A separate review found that loneliness can lead to compromised immunity and inflammation, contributing to heart disease and other chronic issues.

Consider lunchtime an opportunity to connect with friends or co-workers. If you’re truly pressed for time, propose a working lunch so you can tackle some items on your to-do list while you eat.

Related: Great Entrepreneurs, Questionable Health -- 4 Steps to Founder Fitness

3. Mindless snacking.

The more stressed people are, the less mindful they are of their eating patterns. In a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research that examined the impact of mental stress on food choices, a majority of the participants selected an unhealthy food (chocolate cake) over a healthy food (fruit) after completing a complicated memorization task. Researchers ascribed this behavior to participants' having “lower levels of processing resources” after having spending so much energy on cognitive tasks.

Another common response to stress is grabbing unhealthy “convenient” foods. Not only do these choices take a toll nutritionally, but they also have other health impacts. The body isn’t meant to digest food while in fight-or-flight mode, so eating junk food while stressed can lead to digestive upset including gas, bloating, stomach pain and constipation.

The next time you want a snack, take a deep breath and slow down. Try drinking water first. Sometimes thirst is manifested as hunger. And plan ahead. Have readily available healthy snacks that you enjoy  while you’re working. You might find your energy goes up as your intake goes down.

4. Distracting yourself with social media.

Blame brain chemistry for social media drawing you in. Research has suggested that dopamine drives people to seek out pleasure-inducing activities.

So when a person is looking at friends’ Facebook photo albums and status updates, the opioid system might cause him to experience pleasure. The dopamine-opioid relationship would keep him in a cycle of seeking out activities that made him feel good. The unpredictability and instant gratification tied up with texts, tweets and emails stimulates this system.

When you find yourself tempted to click away from your spreadsheet and turn to Facebook, it probably means your brain just needs a break. Try to do something that will replenish you instead. Take a few deep breaths, talk to a colleague, take a short walk or listen to a favorite song. Unplug. If you can’t go a day without checking in on your social circle, schedule 10 minutes for social media so it doesn’t “steal” time from the rest of your day. Then get back to work when the allotted time is over.

5. Not getting outside.

It’s easy to become so absorbed in projects and meetings that the hours fly by and daylight completely eludes you. But moderate amounts of sunlight are important to a person's health and happiness. Research has shown that the brain produces more mood-balancing serotonin with sunlight exposure.

Other studies have suggested that the ultraviolet rays release endorphins, another feel-good brain chemical. And besides offering an opportunity to breathe fresh air, a quick trip outside can provide necessary vitamin D.

Make going outside part of your routine: Have walking meetings, stroll a few blocks to get a tea in the afternoon, schedule a 10-minute meditation break on a park bench or make a few phone calls outdoors. Whatever will take you outside, be sure to make it happen at least once a day. Blocking out a spot in the calendar can be a helpful reminder for establishing this healthy habit.

Related: 8 Tips for an Awesome, Healthier Commute

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