Five tips for workplace wellness

Workplace wellness blog image

One-third of your adult life is spent at work. That’s a pretty big chunk of your life which is why it’s important to make sure that your work place is having a positive impact on your health and wellness and not a negative one.

Whilst more businesses are offering a spectrum of ‘wellness’ benefits to employees there is still a long way to go for some, and we can still take ownership of ensuring we are looking after our own health. I’ve created a list of the five things I think are most important when it comes to looking after yourself in the office:

Stay hydrated

We often get to the end of the day and realise that we’ve been sipping on tea and coffee all day and only had the occasional glass of water. Up to 60% of the human body is made up of water which helps the body function on a daily basis by aiding digestion, flushing waste, delivering oxygen to different parts of the body, and the list goes on. Keeping a bottle of water on your desk helps as a constant reminder to keep drinking. Drinking herbal teas also counts towards your daily fluid intake. It’s recommended that we aim for 2 litres of water per day, if you’ve participated in exercise where your daily losses (sweat) would be higher then you may need a little more to replace this.

Keep moving

Many of us have a job which involves siting at a desk for 6-8 hours a day, followed by relaxing in front of the tv or with a book (in a seated position). Inbetween all this we are commuting – mostly seated. When we are siting we are using very little energy and not a lot of muscle movement is happening, which is not great for our health and wellbeing. Where possible, try to get up and walk around, use your lunch time as an opportunity to go for a walk (even 10 minutes is better than nothing) and on your way to and from work find ways to walk a little more – whether that’s getting off the bus one stop earlier or parking a street or two away. All of these little batches of steps add up and can make a big difference. Going for a walk and some fresh air at lunch time can also do wonders for your energy levels and productivity.

Be aware of non-hunger snacking

Snacking can often be caused by emotion; we snack when we’re stressed, upset, frustrated or even bored. All common workplaces are full of emotions, so it’s no wonder we find ourselves reaching for a little pick-me-up, not to mention all the treats that get brought in by the office star bakers which make it near impossible to choose an apple over a gooey chocolate brownie. Whilst the occasional treat is most certainly allowed, avoid getting into the habit of reaching for a sugary snack. Go to work armed with healthy options, as having these to hand makes it easier to make a better snack choice. Nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain crackers with peanut butter, air popped pop-corn, yoghurt are all great options.

Be conscious of your caffeine intake

Although there are benefits to drinking caffeine, such as increased concentration and alertness, having too much can have a negative impact. Consuming more than the recommended amount of 400mg per day can cause headaches, irritability, nervousness, upset stomach and sleeplessness. Coffee, tea, soft drinks and energy drinks are all sources of caffeine so try and be aware of how much your consuming. For more information on the caffeine content in certain drinks click here. If you’re struggling to sleep at night, try and avoid caffeine in the afternoon as it can stay in your system for 5-10 hours.

Practice being mindful

It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut of going to work, charging through the day and heading home again. When last did you stop and take the time to think – think about how that healthy lunch gave you energy to be productive in the afternoon or how that walk you went for at lunch time gave you perspective after a challenging meeting? How did it feel to take five minutes out of your day to catch up with a colleague and share a few lol’s? What about spending a few minutes after each meeting thinking about what you learnt, what could have been done differently, what didn’t work well? Giving yourself time to reflect on your day and different elements of your day helps you to identify things you do and do not enjoy as well as, areas of strength or gaps in skill/knowledge that you can develop further. It can also help you to become aware of tasks that energise or drain you and by learning more about yourself you can improve your overall wellness.

Always remember that you’re not only at work to do a job and earn a pay cheque – you’re there to grow and develop, improve your skills and knowledge and stimulate yourself. In order to do these things well we have to be well so looking after yourself should be your top priority.

How does caffeine keep you awake, and can you have too much?

Caffeine Coffee image

Caffeine is a natural ingredient found in coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans and over 50 other plants. Coffee, tea and fizzy drinks are the most common sources of caffeine in our diet, however it can also be found in some medications like cough syrups. Caffeine is a stimulant, when consumed it causes a feeling of alertness which is why so many of us reach for a coffee first thing in the morning and late afternoon to help wake us up and get over that 3pm slump.

But how does caffeine exert its ‘awakening’ effect on us? In order to understand this, we need to understand why we feel tired in the first place. This process is begun by a compound called adenosine, which is naturally released by our bodies throughout the day.

During the course of the day our muscles and brain are actively working. As they do so they trigger the release of adenosine. Once adenosine is released it binds to receptors in our brain, and this binding action promotes muscle relaxation and sleepiness. As the day goes on more adenosine is released, binding to more of these receptors and making us feel progressively more tired.

By the time bedtime rolls around we feel very tired and sleepy due to a whole day’s worth of adenosine binding to those receptors in our brain, telling us we need to sleep. Whilst we’re sleeping our bodies recover from this fatigue by metabolising (getting rid of) adenosine and we wake up feeling refreshed, unless of course you didn’t get enough sleep (less than 6-8 hours), in which case not all the adenosine was metabolised leaving you feeling a little sleepy and feeling the need for a big steaming cup of coffee.

So what effect does caffeine have in this process?

Once caffeine enters our blood stream it heads towards the receptors that adenosine normally binds to and blocks the way, this stops the receptors connecting to those receptors preventing the feeling of sleepiness and influences the release of dopamine, serotonin and adrenalin which all play a role in causing you to feel more alert and awake.

As your body metabolises the caffeine – this could take anything from 3-10 hours – those receptors become vacant again and the adenosine heads straight for them which is why you start to feel sleepy again. However, if you’ve consumed caffeine too close to bed time it takes a while for this sleepy feeling to return which may negatively impact your sleep.

Can you have too much caffeine?

Yes, you can, but too much will be varying amounts of caffeine for different people. Some are more sensitive to caffeine whilst others may have built a tolerance to caffeine after drinking it for long periods of time.

Current guidelines state that adults should consume no more than 400mg per day. During pregnancy, caffeine clearance from the mother’s blood slows down. Therefore pregnant and breastfeeding women should aim for no more than 200mg/day. Excessive intake in pregnant women may result in growth restriction, low birth weight babies or premature labour.

Here are a couple of common drinks and the amount of caffeine they contain per cup:

Tea – 10-50mg

Green tea – 30-50mg

Energy drink – 40-250mg

Single shot espresso – 75-85mg

Instant coffee – 60-100mg

Filter coffee (Short/small) – 157mg

Can of coke – 32-42mg

How do you know if you’d had too much caffeine?

A normal effect of caffeine is to feel slightly more awake and alert, however, if you are particularly sensitive to caffeine or have had too much you might experience side effects such as an upset stomach, headaches, anxiousness, fast heart rate, insomnia or nausea.

If you are currently consuming a large amount of caffeine and wish to cut down, it’s advisable to do so slowly as drastically reducing your caffeine intake can cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and drowsiness.  Here are a few tips to help you gradually cut back:

  1. Replace every second cup of coffee with a decaffeinated version;
  2. Swap your coffee for tea, this way you’re still getting some caffeine but not as much;
  3. Reduce the size of your coffee, if you usually order a tall/large simply scaling back to a short/small will half your caffeine intake;
  4. If fizzy drinks like coke are a source of caffeine for you then try cutting back on the amount you have.

If you feel as though you have become tolerant to the effects of caffeine it can help to eliminate caffeine intake for a month to reduce your tolerance.

Caffeine can be part of a healthy balanced lifestyle and has been linked to health benefits such as reduced risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s and liver cancer as well as improved physical strength and endurance. However, it should not be used in place of sleep, exercise or a healthy diet – using it as an occasional pick-me-up or simply enjoying a few cups of tea is definitely allowed!