Nutrition Column – Eat Smart, Work Smart

In today’s world of high-stress, high-demand jobs, it can sometimes be difficult to remember the importance of practicing healthy habits while at work. However, whether you sit at a desk, work behind a counter or are on your feet all day, incorporating good nutrition and physical activity into your workday can make a big difference in your work performance, energy and stress level, as well as your overall health. Follow these simple recommendations from the American Dietetic Association to eat smart and move more while at work.

– Start your workday with breakfast. You’ll replenish your body’s blood sugar stores, needed for sustained mental work and physical activity throughout the day. You’ll also stave off midmorning hunger that may reduce your concentration.

– Take short stress-breakers. Take a brisk, 10-minute walk at least once or twice during your work day. Talking on the phone? Use this time to stretch various muscles, holding each stretch for 15 to 20 seconds. Relieve tension in your shoulders and neck by tilting your head from side to side and from front to back.  

– Take time for a lunch break – even when you’re under pressure. Eating lunch may help you avoid a dip in your afternoon energy level.

– When you go out for lunch, order a nonalcoholic beverage. Alcoholic beverages can make you feel drowsy, which is a problem when you need to feel alert at work. Further, if you handle dangerous equipment or drive as part of you job, the combination of drinking and working is risky.

– Need a snack break? Stash nutritious foods in your desk drawer or in the workplace fridge. However, avoid mindless munching while sitting in front of the computer.

– What about office celebrations? Enjoy just a small piece of cake. When it is your turn to bring goodies, bring bagels and fruit in place of doughnuts or cake.

– Don’t forget to move. Walk or take a strength training class over lunch, or team-up with co-workers for an after-work volleyball, baseball, golf or bowling league.

Do you work from an office at home?

– Keep routine in your life. Instead of rolling out of bed and into your home office, start with breakfast. Try to set a regular time for lunch as well.

– Need a work break? Opt for a walk outside rather than automatically checking out the refrigerator.

– Keep nutritious food on hand for quick workday meals and snacks. With a kitchen handy, you have almost any food option that you plan for.

– Give yourself a treat occasionally. Make a workday lunch date with others who work at home. Social contact that goes with eating out is especially beneficial for those who usually work alone.

– Take advantage of working at home to do other food preparation needs. During a work break, start preparing for the dinner meal.

– Make time to move more. When you work at home, your chance for routine physical activity may decrease because there is no need to walk from the parking lot or bus stop to your place of work. To compensate, make sure you take planned action breaks like walking the dog, walking down the street to pick up the mail or taking 10 minutes to work out on the treadmill or stationary bike. You’ll be amazed at how much sharper your brain can be after a short break.

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension