The Way of the Workplace Wellness Warrior

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For many of us modern workers, it seems our workplace destiny is clear: We sit. We type. We get carpal tunnel syndrome and love handles. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Listen well, Grasshopper, and we’ll show you The Way.

Stand up for your health!  

We’re being both literal and figurative here. Getting out of your chair throughout the day is one of the best things you can do for yourself. wellness-workplace-sedentary-graphic-v3 If that schedule looks familiar, your lifestyle is considered sedentary. The bad news? Even if you dedicate a few hours each week to moderate-to-vigorous exercise (which you should because exercise is great for you on so many levels), it may not offset the negative impact from being mostly sedentary. The trick seems to be spreading out more activity throughout the day.

 

The Way: Just remember 20:8:2. For every 20 minutes of sitting, stand for 8 minutes and move or stretch for 2 minutes.

 

This 30 minute breakdown comes from Dr. Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University and member of a panel whose guidelines for sitting were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine last year.  

A Scary Sampling of Prolonged Sitting’s Effects

Increased risk of…

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Excess fat around the waist
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer

Prolonged sitters have a higher risk of DYING from ALL CAUSES than active people.

That all brings us to how you can figuratively stand up for your health in the workplace. Finding ways to get yourself and your coworkers on your feet helps keep everyone healthier, and making it a group effort helps encourage participation. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

 

The Way: Walk to a colleague’s office instead of calling or emailing. Have brainstorming sessions at the coffee maker or water cooler. Host lunch meetings close enough to walk to and discuss as you walk. Take conference calls on a cell or portable phone, so you can stand and move while you listen.

 

Standing Desks and Treadmill Desks: Are they worth it?

The honest and vague answer is: it depends. Both definitely get you out of your chair. However, standing all day can have its own consequences, including the risk of varicose veins and musculoskeletal problems. Standing desks or treadmill desks can be expensive, but you do expend about 30% more calories standing than sitting, and a treadmill desk can help you reach those coveted 10,000 steps a day. Research suggests that treadmill desks can help employees improve their overall health, but may not have much impact on weight loss or BMI.

 

The Way: Consider your space, your funds, and your needs. Ask yourself these questions, Grasshopper, for therein lies your answer:

 

  • Will your employer allow you to have a different desk?  
  • Do you have the spare cash flow to spring for a special desk, or will your employer pay for it?
  • Do you have room in your office to put in a treadmill desk without impinging on your coworkers’ space?
  • Can you achieve the same effect by just standing up and moving regularly, or does the nature of your job make regular short breaks difficult?

 

 

Respect Your Wrists!

If you’ve ever felt that telltale tingling or numbness in your fingertips, you know how important it is not to take your wrists for granted. Compressed nerves in the wrist or arm can wreak havoc on your grip strength and hand coordination (pretty vital for most jobs), not to mention the accompanying tingling, numbness, and discomfort.

The most recognizable culprit is carpal tunnel syndrome – the bane of many a marathon computer user. In carpal tunnel syndrome, the median nerve gets pinched as it passes through the carpal tunnel on the palm side of the wrist. If you have numbness or tingling in your thumb, index, or middle fingers, you might be feeling the first signs of carpal tunnel syndrome.

 

The Way: Protect your median nerve. Keep your keyboard at or below elbow height to keep your wrists at a nice, neutral position. Relax your grip, give your hands regular breaks and gently stretch and bend your wrists. Watch your posture and make sure your shoulders don’t roll forward, which can put pressure on your nerves. Ward off stiffness by keeping your hands warm.

 

But wait? We have five fingers, and we only talked about three of them in the carpal tunnel paragraph. If you’ve ever experienced numbness and tingling in the pinky and ring fingers, then you’ve probably encountered carpal tunnel syndrome’s evil twin: cubital tunnel syndrome.

The ulnar nerve runs all the way from your neck into your forearm, where it affects grip strength, and down into your hand, where it gives feeling to the pinky and outside half of the ring finger and controls fine motor movements. If the ulnar nerve gets compressed at the elbow where it passes through the cubital tunnel, you have a case of cubital tunnel syndrome.

 

The Way: The above rule about keeping your keyboard at elbow height applies here, too. The goal is to avoid keeping your arms bent for long periods and to avoid putting weight on your elbows or the inside of your arm (that means no prolonged leaning on your elbows or resting your arm out the window while you drive).

 

Seek and Destroy Germ-Magnets

It probably comes as no surprise that the most popular places in the office for you and your coworkers (*cough*cough* the break room) are also popular hot-spots for germs. Some of the top havens for germs include the coffee pot, microwave buttons and the fridge door handle. Germs also seek shelter on your phone, your desk, and your keyboard.

 

The Way: A quick swipe with an antiseptic wipe over common germ havens can make them less hospitable for bacteria.

 

What about hand sanitizer? Experts disagree on this one. No one’s arguing that hand sanitizers don’t kill germs – the problem is they kill the good with the bad. Some beneficial bacteria actually helps protect us against harmful bacteria, but hand sanitizers kill them all.

 

The Way: Know thyself! Specifically, know thy immune system. If you tend to get sick easily, it might be a good idea to use hand sanitizer regularly. If you have a fairly strong immune system, you might be safe only using it during flu season or if you work in a hospital.

Well, Grasshopper, we’ve set you on the path to healthy workplace mastery. From here, it’s up to you. The Way will get you started, but there’s a world of wellness out there that you can bring into your workspace so you and your coworkers benefit. Go forth to be healthy, productive, and fulfilled!

 

Sources:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-price-we-pay-for-sitting-too-much-1443462015

Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature death

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anita-mirchandani/workplace-wellness-tips_b_6855286.html

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/carpal-tunnel-syndrome/basics

http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00069

http://www.wsj.com/articles/germs-at-the-office-are-often-found-on-keyboards-and-at-coffee-stations-1412032235