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Ultimate guide to wellness at work

Last Updated Oct 11, 2017 · Written by Richard Kempthorne


Most of us will spend a third of our lives at work, and recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that the average Australian spends a minimum of 40 hours at work each week.

Staying physically and mentally fit is the best way to cope with long working hours, but what exactly does it mean to be fit and healthy at work?

This article will give you information on:

Health and wellness in the workplace

Physical health in the workplace

Mental health in the workplace

Staying healthy in an office job

Staying healthy in a manual job

Staying fit and healthy outside of work

Summary

References

Physical fitness is easier to define, as it translates into not missing too many days of work due to illness or injury and having plenty of energy to get through the day. Unfortunately, research shows that Australia is witnessing a significant increase in the burden of chronic disease, and a 2010 report found that 72% of Australians had multiple chronic disease risk factors.

Man workplace physical injury with colleague helping to manage his knee

Mental health can be more difficult to assess, especially since in many workplaces it’s still taboo to discuss issues like stress, anxiety and depression openly.

But whether we talk about it or not, 45% of Australians will struggle with a mental health condition during their lifetime, and one in five workers have taken time off in the last 12 months due to stress, anxiety or depression.

If any of this sounds familiar and you’re looking to make some lifestyle changes that will improve both your physical and mental health at work, this guide is for you.

Health and wellness in the workplace

The World Health Organization defines a healthy workplace as one where employees and managers collaborate to address health and safety concerns in the physical and psychosocial environment, provide support and encourage healthy lifestyles.

But as great as this all sounds, what exactly does it entail? Since health and wellness at work is dependent on both our mental and physical state, here’s a breakdown of both.  

Physical health in the workplace

Employers are often in a better position to make impactful changes in the workplace, but there are certainly things you can do too. Research shows that the biggest modifiable risk factors are tobacco smoking, alcohol misuse, a poor diet, physical inactivity and an unhealthy weight. So with this in mind, here are some of the most important things you can tackle right now:  

  • Understand the risks in your line of work

Every job is different, which means the risk factors vary greatly from one workplace to the next. Office workers, for example, deal very different risks than electricians, as research shows that adults who sit throughout the day have a higher risk of early death, particularly from cardiovascular disease.

So understanding exactly what you’re up against is the first step towards preventing unnecessary injuries and staying physically fit.

  • Make healthier food choices

One health analysis of Australian workers found that 92% don’t eat enough vegetables and 51% don’t get enough fruit. So if you want to improve your diet, start by replacing sugary or high carb snacks with healthier ones, such as carrot and celery sticks with hummus or a fruit salad.

  • Take regular breaks

Whether you’re sitting at a desk for most of the day or moving around and lifting heavy objects, taking regular breaks to stand up, stretch or move around is important. Also, make an effort to eat lunch away from your desk or work area so it becomes a proper break for both your body and mind.

  • Mind your posture

Both office workers and those in manual jobs can benefit from adopting a better posture. Office workers have a tendency to slump over, so making a conscious effort to sit up straight, keep legs at a 90 degree angle and position monitors at eye level will prevent neck and back strain. Workers in manual jobs should not only pay attention to their posture, but also to proper lifting techniques in order to avoid injuries and undue strain on the neck, back and shoulders.

Two bricks, barbel weights and belt on yoga matt

Mental health in the workplace

Only five in ten Australians believe their workplace promotes mental well-being. Some of the biggest factors that contribute to stress, anxiety and depression in the workplace include unsupportive workplace relationships and feelings of powerlessness.

Many of the same risk factors that cause physical health problems, such as a poor diet and a lack of physical exercise, can also impact your mental well-being.

So in addition to looking after your physical health by sleeping enough, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of exercise, research shows that protective behaviours, such as maintaining workplace friendships and regularly seeking support from colleagues or managers, can benefit your mental health.

Studies have also found that certain work settings can contribute to workplace stress, so some environmental changes you can make to minimize stress include:

  • Minimise noise and clutter

  • Improve ventilation

  • Enhance your workplace lighting

  • Keep temperatures around 25˚C

Interestingly, workers in professions such as construction, professional, scientific and technical services are more likely to consider their work environment mentally healthy, so if you work in one of these industries you may already be in a better position than most.

 

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Woman weight lifting on a building

Staying healthy in an office job

Whether you’re conscious of it or not, sitting at a desk for hours at a time can be very draining, both physically and mentally. Research showsthat sitting for hours on end each day increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes and contributes to muscle degeneration.

So it’s important to make a conscious effort to look after your health. Here’s how to do just that.

Look for ways to keep moving

Look for ways to keep moving throughout the day, whether you make an effort to stand up every time you make a phone call or walk over to your colleague’s desk instead of sending an email. You could even set an alarm on your phone or use an app that sends you regular reminders to get up and move.

Get outside

Research shows that lunchtime walks can help workers cope with stress and improve their moods. It’s also a great way to beat the afternoon slump that tends to hit right after lunch, so try to eat your lunch outside whenever possible and follow it up with a gentle stroll in the great outdoors.

Eat the right foods

The foods you eat can either slow you down or keep you energised, so avoid eating super heavy lunches and sugary snacks that make you feel sluggish. Instead, go for smaller lunches and have frequent light snacks that incorporate brain boosting foods like avocado, wild salmon, nuts and whole grains.

Fit small exercises into your routine

Although some of you might not want to work up a sweat in the office, there are small exercises you can add to your daily routine in order to stay active. Leg lifts and calf raises for instance, can be done while sitting at your desk or making phone calls.

 

Woman's silhouette against a sunset

Staying healthy in a manual job

Jobs that involve manual labour can be very physically demanding, which makes staying fit all the more important. So whether you’re a construction worker, handyman, or work in manufacturing, here are some things you can do to put your health first.

Stay hydrated

A 2014 study found that 80% of Australians don’t drink enough water, which leads to dehydration, headaches and impaired performance. Staying hydrated is even more important when you’re carrying out tasks that are physically demanding, so keep a refillable water bottle with you and aim to drink 3-4 litres of water a day, and even more during hotter months.

Eat high energy foods

When you’re doing manual labour you need to consume high energy foods that provide you with plenty of calories and nutrients to keep you going throughout the day.

Aim to eat ‘complex carbs’  as opposed to ‘simple carbs,’ as it takes your body longer to break these down, which results in a slow release of energy rather than a brief burst of energy followed by a slump. If you don’t have the option of heating your food at work, you can opt for protein sources like roast chicken and beef or smoked salmon along with whole grain bread, wraps or potato salads.

Do regular stretching exercises

Because your ability to safely do your job depends on your level of physical fitness, it’s a good idea to take a break at least once an hour for some simple stretching exercises to relax and strengthen your muscles. If you’re not sure where to start, this infographic shows some basic but effective stretches for manual workers.

Take mindfulness breaks

Research shows that physically demanding jobs are also associated with high levels of stress, so it can be helpful to take frequent one-minute mindfulness breaks where you focus on your breathing and observe your surroundings. If you’re new to meditation, the Headspace app can help you get started with a few minutes of mindfulness each day.

 

guy using weights on a building site

 

Trade-Specific Health and Safety Tips

Because every tradie’s work environment and job description is different, the risks and health concerns vary too. So here’s a look at some specific professions and what you can do to stay fit and healthy in each type of job.

Plumbers and electricians

The risks:

In addition to the electrical and environmental hazards they face at work, electricians and plumbers are also prone to lower back pain as a result of squatting or kneeling in awkward positions and spending long hours on their feet.

Most electricians and plumbers also have a physically demanding schedule, which makes it more difficult to stick to an exercise routine and eat balanced meals, which means they may also be at risk for health problems like heart disease and obesity.

What you can do:

Start by making an effort to take regular breaks throughout the day to stretch the lower back muscles with simple exercises like back arches, lower back release and single leg hug.

Wearing sturdy shoes with proper ankle and arch support can also help prevent unnecessary back strain. If you often feel achy at the end of a long day, taking a warm bath or using a hot or cold compress can help ease aches and pains and increase blood flow.

Also, consider packing your own lunches and snacks rather than eating out. You can prepare meals with plenty of protein like salmon and grass-fed beef that will support your muscles and help you maintain your energy levels.

Painters and decorators

The risks:

The biggest risk most painters and decorators face at work is inhaling fumes from paint and finishes, but they may also be at risk for slips, trips and falls or eye injuries.

Painters and decorators also frequently spend long hours on their feet, may need to lift heavy or awkward objects and perform repetitive physical tasks which can lead to muscle strain and injuries over time.

What you can do:

In addition to wearing proper masks and eye protection when dealing with chemicals, you should pay attention to your posture while working and try to avoid awkward positions when possible.

It’s also important to take regular breaks to stretch and relax the muscles beings used. Completing a 20-minute strength training workout at least two to three times a week can also help to increase bone density and strengthen your tendons and ligaments, which minimises your chances of getting injured on the job.

Gardeners and landscapers

The risks:

In addition to performing physical and repetitive tasks, gardeners and landscapers tend to spend the majority of their time outdoors, which means they’re more likely to be exposed to extreme weather conditions such as heat waves or cold snaps.

What you can do:

Take regular breaks throughout the day to stretch your muscles, drink water and eat a high calorie, high protein meal or snack to keep your energy levels stable. Completing a full body workout at least two or three times a week is also important for staying in good condition and strengthening the tendons and ligaments.

Other precautions you can take include wearing sun protection such as a wide brimmed hat and sunscreen. During the colder winter months, wear sturdy but lightweight and breathable clothing that keeps you dry and warm but still allows you to move freely.

Builders and handymen

The risks:

Some of the biggest risks handymen and builders face include injuries from falls, trips or slips, repetitive or excessive noise and exposure to hazardous materials and fibres. Builders and handymen are also at a greater risk for lower back and shoulder injuries due to heavy lifting, squatting, kneeling and long hours spent standing.

What you can do:

In addition to employing proper lifting techniques and using protective gear to prevent eye, ear and other bodily injuries, you should incorporate frequent stretch breaks into your routine. Even simple stretches like child’s pose can make a big difference.

To keep your energy levels up throughout the day, try to eat healthier snacks and lunches that will energise you rather than slow you down, such as bananas, oats, whole grain bread, beans and lean grass-fed meat.

Also, remember that even if your job has you doing a lot of physical activity throughout the day, workouts that target specific muscle groups will ultimately make it easier for you to do your job.

Exercises that emphasise core strength, such as planking and straight leg crunches, can be particularly beneficial for handymen and builders, as a strong core will facilitate everything from bending and climbing to lifting.

 

People doing physical training in a building site

Staying fit and healthy outside of work

Adopting healthier habits outside work is the best way to improve your performance and overall health at work too. It takes around 21 days for a new routine to become a habit so consistency is key here in order for a healthier lifestyle to become second nature. Of course, we all have different schedules and times of day when we feel most productive, so figure out what works best for you when incorporating these tips in your routine.

Through the week:

  • Make sleep your number priority

Research shows that sleep deprivation is linked to anxiety, depression and even chronic medical conditions like high blood pressure, so if you want to stay healthy and perform well at work, getting plenty of sleep should be your main priority.

  • Set aside 10-20 minutes for exercise

You don’t need to work out for hours on end to enjoy the health benefits of exercise and research shows that short bursts of intense exercise are just as effective as endurance training. Anyone can manage 10-20 minutes of exercise before or after work, so try to fit in a sprint or some HIIT training at least three times a week.

  • Develop a bedtime ritual

If you find it hard to wind down in the evenings despite being exhausted, developing a bedtime ritual like reading or having a cup of tea will signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. Studies showthat bedtime rituals can reduce stress and improve sleep quality.

On the weekend:

  • Take some time to reflect

We all need to recharge our batteries after a long week at work, so spend time doing something that helps you reflect on your work week. One activity that can be particularly beneficial is journaling, as research showsthat it can reduce anxiety and even boost the immune system.

  • Set aside time for strengthening exercises

In addition to catching up on sleep, the weekend is a great time to strengthen the muscles you use a lot at work and improve your posture. Whether you’re a builder or desk jockey, think about the muscles you use at work and then focus on workouts that will strengthen and stretch those muscles, whether it’s yoga, pilates or weight lifting.

Sliced grapefruiy

Summary:

Staying fit and healthy at work is something that requires careful planning, but the results are so worth it. Rather than looking at any of these tips as a one-time fix, look for ways to build them into your routine and make lasting changes that will benefit every area of your life.

References:

New data reveals the states where Australians work the longest and shortest hours each week (2016). News.com.au. Retrieved September 2017 from http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/at-work/australias-hardest-working-state-revealed/news-story/353727e037c28edcc8de89ffc30f0a97

Guide to Promoting Health and Wellness in the Workplace. (2017).Headsup.org.au. Retrieved September 2017, from https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/guide_to_promoting_health_and_wellbeing_in_the_workplace.pdf?sfvrsn=2

The State of Mental Health in the Australian Workplace. (2017). Headsup.org.au. Retrieved September 2017, from https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1270-report---tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf?sfvrsn=8

Five Keys to Healthy Workplaces (2017). Who.int.Retrieved September 2017 from http://www.who.int/occupational_health/5_keys_EN_web.pdf?ua=1

Guide to Promoting Health and Wellness in the Workplace. (2017). Headsup.org.au. Retrieved September 2017, from https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/guide_to_promoting_health_and_wellbeing_in_the_workplace.pdf?sfvrsn=2

The boss, not the workload, causes workplace depression (2013).ScienceNordic.com.Retrieved September 2017 from http://sciencenordic.com/boss-not-workload-causes-workplace-depression

Stress in the Workplace. (2017) apa.org. Retrieved September 2017 from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/workplace-stress.aspx

The State of Mental Health in the Australian Workplace. (2017). Headsup.org.au. Retrieved September 2017, from https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1270-report---tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf?sfvrsn=8

Stress in the Workplace. (2017) apa.org. Retrieved September 2017 from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/workplace-stress.aspx

The health hazards of sitting (2014) Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved September 2017 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/national/the-health-hazards-of-sitting/750/

Your Guide to Eating Healthy Carbs (2017) WebMD.com. Retrieved on September 2017 from http://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-your-guide-to-eating-healthy-carbs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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