Physical Health in the Workplace

By Olly Thomas

Physical Health in the Workplace: Introduction and Statistics

The now infamous quote ‘sitting is the new smoking’comes to mind when first thinking about the changes we have seen in the workplace over the past 100 years. We have moved from the fields, to the factories, to the office and now to the home with the advent of remote work. This has resulted in us sitting still for long periods of time. This has been shown to have major impacts on our short and long term health. Co-located offices made sitting the norm but this still meant moving around during the day for meetings, watercooler chats and team lunches. As we are shifting into a distributed, remote work-culture the positives and negatives of working in isolation are coming to fruition. Remote work is the curse and the cure for the problems we are seeing in todays modern workforce.

Working from home means we no longer need to get up and move to join a meeting or collaborate with your coworkers. While it has meant less distractions during the day it also means it’s possible to not move around for the entirety of your day. This sedentary lifestyle is having large impacts on employee health causing a number of diseases and chronic pains to manifest.****Combine this with a poor posture and unergonomic office equipment means this is a recipe for disaster in the long term.

Another key factor is that people working remotely have been shown to drastically overwork compared to that of a co-located company. There are no social cues to take a break, go out for lunch or stop working at the end of the day and so these problems are being compounded over time. By it’s very nature remote work allows for flexibility in all regards and there are a number of pro-active approaches an employee and employer can take to make sure their physical health is a high priority.


The Problems and Solutions

The quickest and easiest win here is to invest in office equipment that is ergonomically sound and encourages a non-sedentary work day. Standing desks allows for employees to change their working positions throughout the day and a decent ergonomic chair and keyboard can make all the difference to backs and wrists. Alternating working positions throughout the day keeps things fresh.

It’s also important to form small but effective micro-habits to get you moving throughout the day. A simple 30-60 second stretch before taking a short break can get the blood flowing through the body and alleviate the strains of sitting for long periods of focused work. One could even take it a step further and try to incorporate yoga during their breaks. This has the added benefit of relaxing not just the body but also the mind, increasing focus and productivity in the process.

Breaks are a key component in keeping at peak productivity throughout the day. We will go into more detail in a following chapter regarding this topic, however during this break light exercise can be incorporated into this such as a walk around the block or a lunch time gym session. Breaking up the day with physical activity has shown to increase your productivity once you come back to your desk. Forming these positive habits can be difficult at first but we believe in a ‘little and often’ approach, starting small and building up as you go.

Another aspect that effects both your physical and mental wellbeing is keeping hydrated throughout the day. Making sure you are drinking enough water helps keep your mind firing on all cylinders. This is easily forgotten when you’re deep in work mode, however keeping a flask or jug of water nearby can encourage a healthy water intake. Even those toilet breaks will help with your focus!

It goes without saying that keeping a healthy diet will mean you feel great throughout the day. This is much easier said than done while working from home. The fridge is always close by and willpower is needed to keep temptation at bay. Having a well stocked selection of healthy snacks can stop temptation in it’s tracks, as well as being tactical around lunch time choices. This could be a whole article in itself, but time and time again eating well has been proven to help you keep focused and energy levels high throughout the day. ****

Lastly sleep plays a key factor in how the rest of your day goes. By trying to get a well rested 7-8 hours a night this will pay off when getting down to some deep work.


Physical Health Conclusion

Creating a physically healthy workplace is all about small habits. Some of these are simple, while others require more time and patience. From making sure you structure your day with well timed breaks accompanied by light physical movement and changing the position of your work posture throughout the day. From making sure you’re drinking enough water, to trying your best to eat healthy and getting enough sleep. All of this compounds into a vastly more healthy workday. Luckily remote work allows employees to have a large amount of flexibility to prioritise these habits into their workday, leaving lasting effects. Having control of where, when and how you work means we should be able to live happier more healthy lives, but often times we need a little helping hand to get there.


Actionable Checklist

  • Make sure your work environment is setting you up for success. Get a standing desk, ergonomic chairs and monitors. Alternate your work position throughout the day.
  • Take breaks at regular intervals accompanied by light physical exercise such as a 30-60 second stretch or a walk around the block.
  • Try to incorporate an exercise routine into your work week. This could be going to the gym a few times a week or going for a cycle in your lunch break. Carve out time in your day for this and your body and mind will thank you.
  • Keep a flask or jug of water near by to encourage you to keep hydrated as much as possible. Water that brain!
  • Swap out unhealthy snacks for healthy ones to avoid temptation where possible. Think more tactically about your lunchtime food decisions so to optimise your focus and energy levels.
  • Try to get a good 7-8 hours of sleep a night so you’re firing on all cylinders the next day.

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