You may try to eat well and hit the gym after work, but there’s no reason your healthy lifestyle has to go on hold just because you’re in the office. With a bit of know-how and some easy tweaks to your work regime, you can supercharge your health while you’re earning your weekly crust
Eat for energy
Struggle to get going in the morning, or notice an afternoon slump? Some of that could be down to your diet. ‘Typically, most of us start the day with coffee or tea and cereal, have a lunch of sandwiches, and snack on chocolate through the day,’ says nutrition consultant Ian Marber (www.thefooddoctor.com). ‘But those trigger a spike in blood sugar; the body then pumps out the hormone insulin to bring glucose levels down, which causes your blood sugar to fall, so you feel tired and reach for another hit of sugar or caffeine to bring you up again, and so the cycle continues.’ Here’s how to eat for steady vitality through the working day:
Start your day with a glass of warm water with a little bit of lemon juice squeezed in to hydrate your system (you’ll be dehydrated after several hours asleep).
For breakfast, eat a bowl of porridge sprinkled with nuts and berries and topped with plain live yoghurt. ‘The nuts and yoghurt add protein, which helps keep blood sugar steady, while the oats are high in fibre for healthy digestion, and the fruit is the first of your five-a-day of fruit and vegetables,’ says Ian.
Make yourself a cup of decent coffee. ‘If you really must have caffeine, enjoy one cup of good coffee or tea at your desk and savour it,’ says Ian. Although coffee and tea contain caffeine – not great for balanced energy – they are also rich in health-giving antioxidants, so it’s not all
Eat a pear with a handful of almonds for your elevenses snack. ‘You need
to eat again now to prevent a
fall in blood sugar,’ says Ian. ‘While fruit is very good for you, it’s important to eat something containing protein – such as nuts or seeds – along with it to slow the release of glucose.’ And have a glass of water – dehydration is a major cause of fatigue.
A tasty and healthy lunch option is cold chicken on rye bread with salad. This provides the ideal balance of protein with slow-releasing carbohydrates to keep you going all afternoon – plus a hefty dose of nutrients. Or choose from our other suggestions of easy lunches (see overleaf). Don’t forget your water!
Have an afternoon snack of oatcake with houmous and carrot sticks. To dodge the afternoon slump, avoid sugary foods and eat a combination of protein and slow-releasing carbs. If you really want a cuppa, try a healthier option of green tea, which is higher in antioxidants but lower in caffeine than your regular builder’s brew.
Five easy lunches to take to work
Packing your own lunch will save you money and give you more control over what you’re eating. Here are some clever but quick ideas to escape the sandwich boredom trap
- Smoked mackerel with baked sweet potato and salad Grab all the ingredients before you leave home and assemble in your kitchen at work. It’s the perfect lunch – the mackerel’s packed with brain-healthy omega-3 fats, the sweet potato is crammed with fibre, beta-carotene and immune-boosting vitamin C, while salad gives you a dose of vitamins.
- Pasta salad Cook an extra portion of pasta the night before, then mix with rocket, chopped tomatoes, peppers and tinned tuna, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and you have a sustaining meal packed with protein and veg.
- Wholemeal pitta stuffed with houmous and salad Simply spoon in protein-rich houmous, which is also high in digestion-boosting fibre, and crunchy salad, for a hit of vitamins.
- Vegetable soup with beans and rye bread Either make the soup at home – just whiz cooked vegetables with some stock, onion and herbs to taste – or buy a good-quality carton and microwave it in the office. Ian suggests adding a few tinned butter beans for protein and texture.
- Chicken, avocado and watercress sandwiches If you’re cooking chicken the night before, prepare some extra and allow it to cool. Choose granary bread – it releases glucose more steadily than white – and spread it with avocado. Chop up the chicken, sprinkle on some watercress and season for a sandwich bursting with essential fats, fibre and protein.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Probably not – most of us have learnt bad posture over the years. And it’s causing damage. Bad posture can lead to extra stress and strain on your joints and muscles, not to mention back pain. Hunching over your desk means you’re not using full lung capacity, so you may not be taking in enough oxygen, and that can exacerbate stress. Poor posture is also connected to tension headaches and repetitive strain injury (RSI). ‘Around 80% of the problems I treat are related to postural habits,’ says chartered physiotherapist Sammy Margo (www.postureperfect.co.uk). Follow these steps for good work posture:
- Ask for an ergonomic assessment ‘You may not be able to avoid sitting down at a desk all day, but at least make sure you are positioned correctly,’ says Margo. As a rough guide, your feet should be flat on the floor, your wrists resting on the desk, and your eyes level with the top of your screen.
- Take regular breaks Every hour, stand and walk around the office to stretch your legs and give all your joints a break.
- Become aware of your posture Try to catch yourself hunching and sit up straighter. ‘You shouldn’t have a ramrod-straight back; your spine should be neutral and your shoulders relaxed,’ says Margo.
Clear your mind
An untidy environment and overcrowded mind can make you super-stressed – and less productive. Plus, if you’re tense, you’re more likely to reach for unhealthy foods and develop bad habits. You may not be able to cut your workload but you can keep your mind clear enough to cope with it.
- Get back to basics Making lists and keeping your desk clear really will cut your stress levels. On a practical level, it will help you prioritise tasks and reduce time spent searching for what you need. And psychologically, you’ll feel more in control.
- Sniff your way to a sharper mind ‘Peppermint or citrus essential oils, such as lemon and grapefruit, can help raise your energy and improve clarity,’ says aromatherapist Jules McClean. She suggests sprinkling a couple of drops of one on a tissue and sniffing at regular intervals to perk yourself.
- Go outside Never stay at your desk at lunchtime – even if you have a lot to do, it’s ultimately counterproductive. Research by mental health charity Mind has found a walk outdoors, particularly if you can find a green space (no matter how small!) can significantly ease anxiety. And any form of exercise helps decrease levels of stress hormones and raise feel-good serotonin.
- Have a laugh Make a regular lunch date with someone not related to your work. Giving your mind a break from the office will ease tension and ultimately help you think more clearly.
Outside the office
For a truly healthy working life, there are certain self-care steps you need to take outside the office…
- Have a regular eye check If you have visual problems, such as short sight, you should have a sight test every year (your company will pay).
- Prioritise sleep It’s the biggest contribution you can make towards sustaining energy levels throughout the day and reducing stress. For maximum sleep quality, take half an hour to wind down before bed.
- Have a hobby According to stress expert Professor Cary Cooper, a hobby is one of the best ways of reducing after-work tension. Whether you love jive dancing, archery or playing an instrument, as long as it absorbs you, it will slash your stress levels.
Pictures: getty images