Is your workplace making you sick?
We spend more that 30% of our lives at work, so it comes as no surprise that our work environment has a major effect on our health. These can range from physical, mental and emotional stresses which can affect our wellbeing.
Toxins are everywhere, in our modern life the average person is exposed to over 160 chemicals a day. Commercial work buildings have been known to be hazardous to our health, the term “sick building syndrome” is used for a building with poor ventilation, poor lighting, and not enough fresh air causing employees symptoms such allergic reactions, sinus problems, increased fatigue, and generally feeling unwell while at work.
The lack of exposure to sunlight for office workers can cause numerous health issues. A survey of Sydney office workers, presented to the Dietitians Association of Australia found that 42 per cent were deficient in Vitamin D at the end of winter. Vitamin D and increased release of serotonin occurs when we are exposed to sunlight. This vitamin and hormone is essential for good immune system function, helps depression, anxiety and aids in maintaining good health.
The term “sitting is the new smoking” was coined to highlight the effects of prolonged sitting. According to statistics, Australians are not very active, with 57% not getting enough exercise and doing less than 30 minutes of activity per day. An alarming statistic shows that we can spend up to 18 hours sitting a day, by travelling in a car or public transport, then sitting at a desk all day before coming back home to sit on the couch.
Unfortunately, regular exercise at the gym may not make up for the fact that you have a sedentary job. We are meant to be continually active. Movement throughout our day and increasing what is called incidental exercising is crucial for optimal health and wellbeing.
External toxins and sedentary jobs are not the only cause of health concerns in the workplace; stress is a major source of illness and chronic disease. In a recent study it was found that 60% of people found work to be the major source of their stress, from a demanding boss, unfriendly colleagues, or just high work demands and deadlines. This can affect the body by being in a state of fight or flight day in and day out. Hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline are readily available for our survival but can turn deadly when chronically present, causing disease both physically and mentally.
So what do you do if you are feeling the effects of work in your body and mind and it is affecting your health? Well, if early retirement is not an option, there are simple and effective strategies to make your workplace healthier.
1) Breathe. Not the normal shallow chest breathing most of us are used to, but practice diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing helps increase oxygen to the body, decrease stress levels and increase overall health and wellbeing. When you inhale, you expand your diaphragm down and out (belly out) and when you exhale relax your abdomen and diaphragm; complete this cycle without lifting your chest.
2) Get out and get some sunlight. Safe sun exposure is essential for our mood and general health. Vitamin D deficiencies can cause muscle weakness, decrease immune function, inflammation and many more.
3) Get up out of your chair. Taking breaks from your seated workstation can alleviate muscle aches and pains, increase your concentration and promote productivity. Plan walking meetings and choose to walk to your colleague’s desk instead of sending an email.
4) Decrease your levels of toxins in your day to day life. Toxins are found in packaged foods in the form of preservatives, sugars, colours’ and additives. Also check your household and beauty products for toxic chemicals. Choose fresh foods and organic skincare.
Not all workplaces are concerned about the health and wellbeing of their staff and sometimes we may not have control of our work environment. Therefore, it is essential we establish every day healthy habits both at work and at home. This will enable you to achieve complete wellness anywhere you are.
Dr. Debra Villar is a wellness practitioner, speaker and the managing director of Complete Corporate Wellness, a corporate health and wellness provider. Her company provides onsite and digital health solutions to companies nationwide.