With hectic schedules and imminent deadlines hanging over us, health can sometimes be the last thing we think about at the office. And as many of us with desk jobs will know, spending hours sitting still – often with sugary snacks within easy reach – can take a toll on our wellbeing.
So how can we feel better? Incorporating small, realistic changes to your everyday routine can make all the difference. We've compiled our top tips, from taking a brisk walk at lunch to preparing healthy snacks.
1. Start the day with a nutritious breakfast
Kick-start a busy day with a satisfying breakfast that will power you through until lunch. As well as keeping you energised, it can also help you to resist a sugar craving or caffeine fix.
Whip up a protein-rich herby omelette, try a wholesome bowl of porridge or, if you want a grab-and-go breakfast, make a jar of overnight oats the evening before. If you don't normally eat much early in the morning, try a smoothie or fruity yoghurt pot.
Find more feel-good breakfast inspiration in our healthy breakfast recipe collection.
2. Snack smarter
Sugary snacks might give you an instant energy rush, but this can often be followed by a slump (and cravings for yet another biscuit). While we're all in favour of the occasional treat, there are plenty of healthier options that are just as tasty – and that won't mess with your blood sugar levels quite so much.
Our 10 low-sugar snacks are great for combating that 3pm slump. From crispy courgetti fritters to curried popcorn, these brilliant bites deliver on taste and contain no more than 5g sugar per 100g.
If you have a sweet tooth, whole fruit offers a healthy way to curb a craving. Different fruits have individual health benefits, but all count towards your five-a-day and provide valuable vitamins, minerals and fibre. Try bringing in bananas, oranges, apples or pre-prepared portions of pineapple or mango to snack on.
3. Tuck into a packed lunch
When it comes to lunchtime, planning is key. Aim for a balance of lean protein, slow-release carbs, healthy fats and plenty of colourful vegetables. Canteen meals and shop-bought sandwiches are often high in salt, sugar and saturated fat, so put aside some time the night before to make yourself a delicious and healthy packed lunch that you know you'll look forward to.
We've got plenty of ideas for quick, easy and nutritious meals you can prep ahead for work, including wholegrain pasta boxes, brown rice salads, nutritious sandwiches and wraps, satisfying soups and protein pots.
You can find more feel-good lunch inspiration with our healthy packed lunch collection.
4. Curb the caffeine cravings
Many of us reach for a cup of coffee to ease ourselves into the working day, and with good reason – aside from being delicious, coffee may also have some health benefits. However, caffeine is a stimulant that affects everyone differently. Some people may experience energy slumps, dizziness or insomnia when they consume too much caffeine. It can also act as a diuretic, which causes the body to produce urine more quickly.
If you're looking to reduce your caffeine intake, it's worth winding down slowly. Rapid withdrawal could leave you with headaches, so it may be best to cut back gradually over two to three weeks rather than quitting cold turkey. Good alternatives include decaffeinated coffee or tea, herbal teas or good old water – which leads us on to the next tip…
5. Keep hydrated
It's often easy to lose track of how much water you're drinking. However, even mild levels of dehydration (losing 1% of your body weight in fluid) can lead to fatigue and headaches – not what you need on a busy work day! Signs of dehydration may include thirst, passing dark-coloured urine, feeling lethargic or dizzy or having a dry mouth and lips. Although individual needs vary, the NHS recommends that, on average, we should consume around 6-8 glasses a day.
If you're not keen on the taste of plain water, try diluting some fruit juice or check out our ideas for infusing your water with fruit and herbs for an added flavour boost. Buying a reusable water bottle that you enjoy drinking from may also encourage you to drink more, as well as helping to protect the environment. Read our review of the best water bottles to buy and find your new favourite.
6. Stay on the move
Regular, moderate activity is vital for good cardiovascular health, weight management and keeping up energy levels, to name just a few benefits of exercise. However, with sedentary office jobs and long commutes to contend with, it's easy to let exercise fall by the wayside.
There are so many ways to exercise for free, so why not get out and about during your lunch break and go for a stroll, jog or cycle in the fresh air? Not only will it clear your head, get your circulation going and burn calories, the change of scenery will also provide a chance to de-stress.
If you simply don't have time to get outside at lunchtime, there are plenty of other exercise hacks you can try during the day: take the stairs instead of the lift, run to work or get off the bus one stop earlier and enjoy a slightly longer walk on your commute. You'll arrive to work feeling more energised and ready to start brainstorming.
See our guide for quick and easy exercises, which you can do either at work or at home without any need for fancy gym equipment.
7. Take regular breaks
Taking a break may be the last thing you want to do when faced with a seemingly endless to-do list, but taking short breaks throughout the day may help to boost productivity and promote wellbeing. In fact, taking frequent shorter breaks may be better at relieving back pain than taking fewer longer breaks.
If you're struggling to remember to get up, try setting yourself hourly pop-up reminders to get up and walk around. It's a great excuse to make a hot drink and have a catch-up with colleagues.
If standing desks are available at your workplace, give them a go – they offer an easy way to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting, while still allowing you to focus on your work. Alternatively, swapping your chair for an exercise ball will improve your balance and give your abs a workout (just take care when using it!).
8. Use technology to your advantage
Sometimes a little motivation is all you need to get up and running. Fitness watches, trackers and apps offer a convenient way to monitor your progress and stay on track to achieve your health goals. But with such an abundance of fitness-orientated tech on the market, it can be difficult to know which one to invest in – so we've reviewed the best fitness trackers on the market to help you make the right choice.
Some of the apps that the BBC Good Food team have used include Time Out, which provides a regular reminder that you've been sitting too long and need to take a break; My Water Balance, which helps to track daily water intake; and, of course – did we mention the BBC Good Food recipes app? It's perfect for finding healthy recipe inspiration and planning your weekly meals on the go (even if we do say so ourselves).
9. Maintain good posture
Are you sitting comfortably? It's all too easy to lean into the computer screen, hunch your shoulders, or lean sideways while talking on the phone. Unfortunately, sitting in an awkward position can place pressure on the neck, shoulders and spine, increasing the risk of repetitive strain injuries such as tension neck syndrome.
Make a conscious effort to correct your posture so that you're sitting upright at an arm's length from the computer. Ensure your screen is at eye level and the font is large enough that you aren't straining to read. NHS guidelines recommend adjusting your chair so that your lower back is supported, your wrists and forearms are straight and your feet are flat on the floor. Your elbows should be at the side of your body, with your arms bent in an L-shape at the joint and the keyboard should be positioned at the front of the desk, leaving a small gap of about 4-6 inches (10-15cm) to rest your wrists between typing sessions.
If you're a regular phone user, try swapping your handheld device for a headset, which will reduce the strain from cradling the phone in your neck.
10. Manage stress
Relentless deadlines, long hours or a demanding job can increase your stress levels and take a toll on your mental and physical wellbeing. The NHS recommends trying self-help techniques to lower your stress levels in the workplace. These may include:
Mindfulness, meditation and yoga – these are popular methods of calming your mind and body and are activities you can do nearly anywhere. Bring a mat to work and find a quiet place, or join a yoga class.
Getting enough sleep – this is essential for maintaining focus and decreasing long-term stress levels. Aim for eight hours each night. Improve the quality of your sleep by making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, tidy and at a temperature between 18C and 24C.
Take time to socialise – maintaining a strong support network of friends, family and colleagues can make all the difference to your stress levels. Joining social or sports clubs can help you to prioritise spending on hobbies or physical activities that you enjoy while having a good laugh – a proven stress-buster.
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