During the work week, you probably spend between one half and two thirds of your waking hours at your job. Regardless of how well you take care of yourself away from your desk, you’re headed for trouble if all those at-work hours are unhealthy ones.
Unfortunately, most office spaces are designed to maximize efficiency and productivity, not your well-being. From posture-killing desk configurations to gut-swelling snack triggers, your workspace is probably doing a number on you.
Here are seven simple ways to fight back.
REMOVE ALL FOOD CUES
Just seeing food makes you crave it, says Aner Tal, PhD, a researcher with Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab. If you keep snacks or treats on your desk or in a drawer where you’ll notice them, you’re guaranteed to eat even when you’re not hungry, he says. Get that shit out of there. Ditto any food-related photos or knickknacks you have on your desk or in your office. “Out of sight, out of mind” couldn’t be truer when it comes to food.
Along with cleaning your air of pollutants like formaldehyde, a potted plant can lower your stress and improve your blood pressure, research shows. Boston ferns, chrysanthemums, and English ivy are among the best at scrubbing your air of unhealthy particles, per a study from NASA scientists.
RAISE YOUR MONITOR
Spend all day hunching forward to look at a computer monitor that’s well below your natural line of sight, and you’ll gradually weaken all the neck and shoulder muscles that help you hold your head up straight, says Mary Ann Wilmarth, CEO of Back2Back Physical Therapy and former chief of physical therapy at Harvard University.
You want your monitor positioned so that its center is roughly in-line with your eyes when you’re sitting up straight, she says. Whether you use books or a fancy monitor stand, elevate that sucker. If you’re stuck working on a laptop, consider buying a separate keyboard and mouse so you can raise up your computer while you’re at your desk.
GO FOR WALKS
Sitting all day is a killer. Long bouts of chair-time are linked with heart disease, cancer, type-2 diabetes and an early death, research shows. No big deal. At the same time, extended periods of “stationary standing”—or standing still in one place—may also be crappy for you.
Your antidote: Go for short (3-minute) power walks every 30 minutes. You’ve got a timer on your phone; use it. Experts say frequent movement—even low-intensity movement like walking—can wipe out the health harms associated with sedentary time.
FOLLOW THE 20-20-20 RULE
Your eyes were made to scan natural environments for food, predators, and potential mates. They weren’t designed to stare at a computer screen two feet from your nose for hours on end. All that screen-time can lead to eye strain, dryness and even headaches, research shows.
To avoid all those strain-related symptoms, take a break from your screen every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Experts call this the “20-20-20” rule, and say it will save your peepers.
BANISH NEW-EMAIL NOTIFICATIONS
One of the greatest sources of work stress and distraction may be your email inbox. The more you check it, the more anxious and unhappy you tend to feel. But most of us have some kind of new-email notification or inbox counter running at all times, which basically forces us to check our email non-stop.
Get rid of those reminders. Check your email at most every 30 minutes (maybe after you take your 3-minute walk). Putting an hour or two between inbox check-ins is even better. You’ll lower your stress levels and spend less time reading frivolous junk.
BUY A “DAYLIGHT” LAMP
Your body’s natural circadian rhythms help regulate your sleep, appetite, mood, and energy levels. One of the best ways to “set” or calibrate those rhythms is to expose your eyes to sun-strength light during the morning hours. That’s no problem if you have a window office that gets plenty of AM sun. (You don’t have to stare at the sun or anything. Your eyes just need to be around bright light.)
If you’re trapped in a windowless office or cubicle, you can mimic the effect with a “bright light” indoor lamp. (Just Google “light therapy lamp.”) Turn it on in the morning when you’re at your desk, and you’ll help set all your body’s clocks to the proper time. Just be sure to turn it off in the afternoon, otherwise you may have trouble sleeping at night.