Hello again, we’re back with part 2 of our series about redesigning the workplace to optimize health.
Previously, we talked about the importance of a healthy workplace, and how the way we currently organize our daily work is insufficient in providing us with an environment that is conducive to a long and healthy life (and an enjoyable, misery-free retirement).
Because of the massive amounts of time we spend at work, it’s of utmost importance that we see the necessity of rethinking the way we do our jobs – the alternative is a massively higher risk of chronic disease by the time we get to retirement.
Last time we discussed some basic, yet important things: getting more light into your workday and cycling your coffee habit.
Today, we’re going to talk about a few more strategies to implement to redesign your office space.
Get up and get moving
Many workplaces take pride in giving their employees a comfortable and ergonomic place to work in. There’s just one fatal flaw with your ergonomic, state of the art desk chair: you’re still sitting all day.
And that’s very bad for your health. It’s often said that sitting is the new smoking, and it couldn’t be more true.
Sitting all day massively increases insulin resistance, leading to a higher risk of getting diabetes. It’s also not very good for your heart. Plus, there’s the fact that sitting on your butt all day makes you fat. Which, besides all the health risks, is also not very aesthetically appealing.
The fact is, our bodies are made to move throughout the day, and our body cannot function optimally if we don’t get up and start being active.
No matter how high-tech your ergonomic desk chair is, you’re still on your butt most of the day
Does this mean you have to be exercising all day? No, of course not, and I doubt many people would be able to do 8-hour workouts every day – and it likely wouldn’t be very conducive to good health either.
The key here is a thing called NEAT – that’s short for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, which in turn is just a fancy word for ‘just moving’. NEAT covers all the activity you do that isn’t really exercise, like walking, fidgeting, typing on year keyboard, brushing your teeth, you name it. And even without intentionally raising it – by going on walks for example – NEAT can easily account for hundreds of calories burned per day. With some effort, you can upgrade those levels into the thousands.
While you shouldn’t be exercising all day, you should try to engage your body in some form of NEAT during your workday. Here are some suggestions
- Sitting is bad…
If you’re working in a desk environment, where you don’t have much say in the way your desk is organized, one option might be to try walking more during the day. If you absolutely HAVE to sit the entire day (for example, you’re an air traffic controller or do some other job where standing or getting up more is absolutely not an option), you might try to buy an under-desk cycle, which is basically just a pair of bicycle steps that you place under your desk and that allow you to cycle all day. Another option is to go outside and take a small walk during lunch break – this works well together with our suggestion to get more daylight.
- Standing is good…
If it isn’t strictly necessary for you to sit (and there are very few jobs where this is an absolute necessity), at least try standing up.
The easiest way to get around this is to get a standing desk. A standing desk, while not the perfect solution to the problem at hand, helps you activate your leg muscles and does a few things to counter insulin sensitivity.
Although standing all day isn’t the ideal solution, purely scientifically speaking it’s still leagues ahead of sitting down all day. Just by standing all day, you can burn a few hundred extra calories per day.
If it’s good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for you
You can get an adjustable standing desk, or buy a standing desk set to put on your normal desk. Sure, your colleagues might give you a weird look in the beginning, but you’ll get over that.
- …walking is better!
The suggestions I outlined above are a big step up from passively sitting on your desk, letting your body slowly fall into ruin. However, if you are working a desk job, there’s one option that stands out above all others, and that’s getting yourself a walking desk (also called a treadmill desk).
Now, don’t imagine you’d have to walk at a brisk, five-mile per hour pace all day. Just walking extremely slowly during the day is more than enough to keep the juices flowing and keep your muscles active.
By doing this, you can easily burn over a thousand calories per day, which is the equivalent of about 2 hours of intense exercise. Without getting super exhausted, and still able to do your job attentively.
The why of exercise in the workplace
Exercise is good for you, everyone knows that. However, if you’ve been at work all day, chances are you still have to drive home, pick up the kids from school, you have to prepare dinner and you might want some time to relax in the evening too. By the time you’re done, you’re often drained and can’t bring yourself to do anything of a physical nature anymore.
Exercising at that time of day requires some extra willpower. And we don’t believe in willpower. Willpower is extremely fallible and unreliable. By the time you finished work, you’re likely out of that specific resource.
That’s why I think it’s critical that workplaces implement exercise as a part of the daily work schedule. Having a gym in the workplace is ideal to allow your employees to get that daily dose of health-promoting exercise.
It’s not solely in the interest of the employees either. Healthy, fit employees will be more productive, call in sick much less, have less risk for chronic disease. Additionally, being able to exercise will increase workplace satisfaction, which will in turn decrease turnover rate. And employees who are healthy can also keep working for longer before they go on retirement.
The costs for health insurance and other forms of social security will, as a result of massively declined health problems, go way down. So society in general wins too. And all it takes is a small investment in exercise equipment.
The how of exercise in the workplace
I already explained the why, now let’s talk about the how.
Exercise comes in many shapes and forms. For reasons of simplicity, it’s nearly impossible to try and cater to everyone’s needs. As a business, you want to stay profitable and so you can’t go buying 20 different machines, have your own swimming pool and running track.
What I personally think every business ought to manage, is to have a small weightlifting gym in the office building. I specifically use weightlifting because it’s one of the most efficient forms of exercise possible. You can do an effective workout in half an hour, without even breaking a sweat and without being totally exhausted afterwards, which allows you to resume your daily tasks after your quick workout. Just a few sets of different compound movements (like squats or deadlifts) with heavy weights are enough to train nearly your entire body and create massive health benefits.
You don’t need to become Arnold – but a small weightlifting workout after lunch break can have a massive effect on your health and productivity
There are a few specific benefits that I’d like to discuss.
- Strengthening of bones
As we get older, our bones tend to lose mass. By the time you get to retirement, your risk of osteoporosis increases manifold. This is especially the case in women, who are specifically vulnerable to this ailment. Weightlifting does much to counter this and is a great way to strengthen your bones. By allowing employees to do a daily weightlifting regimen, you vastly decrease their risk of bone fractures later on in life as well as decrease the risk of injuries during their career.
- Massively decreased risk of chronic disease and cancer
In Western nations, we don’t tend to die of infectious diseases anymore, which is obviously a good thing. However, other types of diseases have sprung up and replaced them. Diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke are modern society’s primary killers and they have truly become epidemics.
Yet you can massively cut your risk of catching any one of these diseases, simply by lifting weights a few times a week.
For example, there’s research that shows that colon cancer risk drops by 25% by just implementing two weightlifting sessions a week.
For heart disease and stroke, the results are even more stunning: a weekly half hour weight lifting session has been shown to decrease risk of getting one of these by up to 70 %. That almost completely eradicates the risk of getting these diseases.
For type 2 diabetes, the risk decrease is usually around 30-40%
Let’s be honest: those numbers are massive. And you have to take into account that we advocate this in addition to using a standing/walking desk and in addition to our other health-promoting suggestions, which will likely only have compounding benefits. While it’s probably impossible to completely eliminate the risk of getting chronic heart disease, it definitely is possible to massively reduce the risk of running into one of society’s serial killers.
- Improved sleep and mood
I think any employer prefers his employees well-rested and happy. Employees that sleep well will be mentally sharp, more creative and be more productive in general. A good mood ensures everyone gets along, which improves teamwork and makes sure there are no workplace conflicts.
Again, this is where weightlifting creates massive benefits. People who lift weights experience improved sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and also deeper sleep.
As for mood, the effects are equally stunning: there are a ton of clinical trials out there that show powerful antidepressant effects, on par with medication.
- Increased energy levels
And which employer doesn’t like his employees to have lots of energy? Here’s where strength training really shines.
Our energy levels are very dependent on the state of our mitochondria, which are our cells’ power plants. Basically, the more mitochondria you have and the bigger and stronger they are, the more energy you’re going to have.
Mitochondria tend to grow bigger after they’re subjected to something called hormetic stress, a short but intense stressor that creates a demand for adaptation, which happens while you rest. This is as opposed to chronic stress, which is stress that is continually present and doesn’t offer the chance for an adaptation to occur because you’re not given the chance to rest and recover from it.
A few examples of hormetic stressors are heat exposure, cold exposure, or exercise.
Heavy weight training is one of the most powerful hormetic stressors out there, and it’s very effective in increasing the number of mitochondria and making them stronger. That will lead to increased energy levels, which in turn will make you a better and more productive employee.
Nutrition in the workplace
To end, we’re going to discuss one final critical element: nutrition.
Now, in your office there might be a snack dispenser or a company restaurant. The problem is, it’s likely that these don’t always offer the most healthy food.
If you want to live until you’re a hundred years old (and in good health), it’s critical that you have proper nutrition available to you at all times. Candy bars and cookies, staple foods in many workplaces obviously do not contribute to this. Neither does a lunch from the company restaurant which is composed of starchy carbs devoid of micronutrients, sandwiches and/or processed meat and a tiny bit of veggies.
What your daily workplace lunch ought to look like
If a workplace wants to be designed around perfect health, it has to offer meals that are extremely vegetable rich, with as little unprocessed foods as possible. At the same time, it has to be able to offer a variety of fruits to be eaten as a snack during the day.
An adequate fruit and vegetable intake is correlated with a massively decreased risk of cancer, heart disease, type-2 diabetes and a whole range of other chronic diseases.
Looks a bit more conducive to health than Mars bars and cookies, no?
This means that, if you want your employees to live a long and healthy life, void of sickness and disease, you have to create an environment where it is almost unavoidable that they eat anything but a healthy, plant-based diet (unless they bring that stuff from home). (Note that plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean vegetarian or vegan. There’s nothing wrong with high quality, unprocessed animal protein in the right amounts.)
In the last few articles, we’ve talked about a few ways to optimize the modern workplace. In each part, we’ve discussed the benefits. Now, one thing we’d like you to realize is that all these benefits are complementary to each other.
For example, if we talk about how weight lifting decreases risk of colon cancer by 25%, we need to imagine that that’s in addition to the risk decrease that you get by implementing healthy food at work, and in addition to adding more movement by using a walking desk. Like that, it’s likely that you’ll be able to cut colon cancer by more than half, just by doing a small redesign of the workplace and by implementing a few workday rituals.
And the same goes for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and a ton of other chronic ailments. For all the billions of dollars that are being pumped into cancer and other medical research, the investment this takes is fairly limited in scope, with major results.
At the same time, workplace productivity will be increased too, so it will be very likely to be an investment that bears fruit in terms of cash flow. Employees will call in sick less, be happier, have more energy, will make less mistakes, and be more productive in general. They’ll take less time off and will be able to work longer, keeping valuable experience in the workplace.
Obviously, when you’re working from home, you have much more freedom in creating your own work environment, and you don’t have a boss to convince, which makes all of this much easier to accomplish.
So much valuable time and money can be won by simply creating a work environment that isn’t merely ‘conducive’ to good health, but one that makes it nearly impossible to have employees in poor health.
All in all, we think that’s a fair trade and a huge result for a small change in mindset.