Stay healthy at work

Caroline Cassidy

The work environment is the place where we spend a large part of our waking hours and as such, staying fit and healthy in the workplace is essential. Though you may not notice, bad posture, stress and a sedentary job all take their toll on your body so reduce your risk of work-related ill health with these tips.

workplace health advice
workplace health advice

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Don't sit for too long
Many of us spend the majority of our working lives sitting behind a desk, and this, coupled with the long commutes many take on daily, presents its own health risks.

In fact, according to the NHS, research has shown that sitting for too many hours in the day can shorten your life, due to the muscles not contracting enough which in turn affects the body's ability to process fats and sugars.

Breaking up your sitting hours is important for workplace health so make sure you take regular breaks, even if it is just to walk to the water cooler or kettle. Take the stairs instead of the lift to give your muscles a chance to work, or simply stand when taking a phone call.

Bad posture also gives rise to problems, so keep your feet flat on the floor, adjust your chair so that you are able to type with wrists and forearms straight and parallel to the floor, and place your computer screen at eye level. An ergonomically-designed chair will ensure that your back is properly supported - and remember, you are well within your rights to ask your employer for a workplace assessment.

Avoid RSI
Repetitive strain injury is another common workplace problem. Whether using a mouse, telephone, digging or lifting, repeated overworking of certain muscles can result in this nasty injury. Simple changes such as regularly changing the position in which you hold your phone, particularly if you have a habit of cradling it between neck and shoulder, can help to reduce your risk. Computer-users, for instance, should make sure that they use their whole forearm to move the mouse, rather than just the wrist.

More manual jobs also present problems in this area so do take the time to stretch those muscles that are worked hard, and take regular breaks to allow them to rest properly.

And if heavy lifting is a large part of your job, always lift correctly, with knees bent and the load close to the waist to avoid serious back injuries.

Rest your eyes
A particular problem for computer workers, eye strain can increase your risk of short-sightedness. To avoid straining your peepers, ensure that lighting does not produce glare on the screen, get regular eye tests and, most importantly, take regular rests of five to ten minutes for every one to two hours of time spent at the computer.

Along with back pain, stress is now the one of the biggest causes of workplace absence, and with workforce reductions and redundancy fears high in everybody's minds, it can quickly take its toll.

However, it is possible to reduce or at least keep a lid on workplace stress. Firstly, create boundaries between your work and personal time. With smartphones, tablets and laptops at our fingertips it is all too easy to end up checking emails outside of work, but 'clocking off' is essential to your mental health.

When you do have downtime, make sure you engage with friends and family and spend time on your hobbies or activities. Getting regular exercise - even if that means getting off the bus one stop before your destination or taking a walk in the park - will allow you time out from the workplace. Even if you don't get your full hour lunch break, make sure you take regular breaks to chat with fellow employees or enjoy a sandwich away from your desk.

When it comes to work itself, learning how to prioritise is one of the key skills that will help you to avoid stress. Even in a demanding job, there is only so much you can do in a day - it's okay to say 'no' if you are asked to take on more than you can handle. Just be sure that you have calculated your current workload and the time it will take, and offer a calm, reasoned explanation for your response.

Lastly, don't ignore the symptoms of stress. A pounding heart, dry mouth, headaches, unexplained aches and pains and loss of appetite can all point to workplace stress so make changes before you suffer real problems. And if you are struggling to cope, do not be afraid to see your GP.