Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The healthy workplace

I got one of those random solicitations from someone who wanted me to write about how I keep my workplace healthy and to link to their website. Usually I ignore these offers, but this one sounded interesting.  It turns out they wanted me to conceal the fact that they'd contacted me directly.  They said only a "select group" of bloggers had been asked and they didn't want anyone to feel left out.



 I don't like to be deceptive, so I'm not going to link to their website.  However, I think that creating a healthy workplace is an interesting topic.  In my current office environment there are four challenges to being healthy: lack of natural light, being sedentary, stress, and nutrition.

Sad cube is sad


I'm convinced that spending all day under artificial light is unhealthy.  Our building is tightly wedged between two other buildings, so the only windows are those that face the street and the light doesn't penetrate as far as my cube near the back of the building.  I've had mild psoriasis for years, but after a working for a year in my current building, it became much worse.  At first, it didn't occur to me that my workplace might be to blame, but after a year, I started to get suspicious, blaming work stress and the allergens I'm inhaling in our dank, moldy building. I didn't realize at the time that psoriasis is linked to vitamin D deficiency, which can be caused by lack of exposure to sunlight.  I started taking vitamin D supplements and within a few days, the rash was less itchy.  Last summer, I continued to take vitamin D and on the weekends, spent half an hour a day in the sun, and the rash improved a lot. Unfortunately, I became less diligent about taking my vitamin D, and with the coming of winter, it got worse again--but not as bad as it was the year before.  I'm hopeful that getting back on track with the vitamin D will help.

I've heard that being sedentary is as unhealthy as smoking, which is pretty alarming.  Even more scary, exercising doesn't cancel out the bad health effects of sitting at a desk all day.  I walk to and from work every day--four miles round trip, or twenty miles a week.  I'm also at the gym five days a week, so it's a bit discouraging that all this is useless in the face of my desk job.  I tried an improvised standing desk, but my mouse/wrist angle was so uncomfortable, I wanted to simultaneously burst into tears and punch someone in the face.  I took it all down and bought a fitness disk, which is supposed to help engage your core while you are sitting on it.  It's a bit uncomfortable, so I can't sit on it for more than twenty minutes at a time, but I've learned I can use it for mini resistance workouts at my desk. I'm also trying to remember to take standing breaks on the even hours throughout the day. On days when I have a lot of meetings scheduled, I have the opportunity to walk quite a bit during the day.  Other days, my butt barely leaves my chair.  In nice weather, I'll sometimes take a quick walk around the block.  More than once, if I haven't been able to get something to work, the solution has come to me after I got away from my desk and walked a bit.

Stress is my toughest challenge.  Work stress gives me chest pain, disturbs my sleep, and inhibits my ability to enjoy other activities.  I think it's partially responsible for my psoriasis.  Whenever things are particularly stressful, the urge to scratch is overwhelming.  Scratching the psoriasis rash seems to relieve an itch in my brain. Walking to work helps the stress, somewhat, but the walk home is a major stressor itself because of the cars.  Drivers are more sedate and considerate in the morning.  On Mondays, I take a 6:15 cycling class at my gym and then go straight to work.  It isn't easy to pack a towel and toiletries and lug all my work clothes to the gym at 06:15, but when the workout is done, I have the satisfaction of knowing I've just completed the most difficult thing I'll have to do all week, which is a nice psychological boost. Otherwise, Monday is a "treat day" meaning I don't cook dinner unless I feel like it,  and allow myself to climb into bed straight after work.  What with the gym and the "treat day" concept, I don't mind Mondays.  Tuesday is the day that sucks.

Nutrition is relatively easy.  I pack all my meals and rarely go out, not even for coffee. I leave my wallet at home, so I won't be tempted by the nearby coffee houses and restaurants.  My cube food favorites are carrot sticks, clementines, hard boiled eggs, sardines, and smoothies.  I have tried and failed to come up with a green smoothie that doesn't taste horrible.  A major disadvantage of green smoothies in the workplace is that you risk getting bits of green in your teeth. Beets are a better choice, and they pair really well with strawberries. Before work, I'll blend  unsweetened almond milk, half of a raw grated beet, frozen strawberries, and half a scoop of vega one protein powder and carry it to work in a mason jar.  I've started drinking kombucha at work, for its supposed health benefits. I've learned to like the taste and it has only thirty calories per serving.

What about you?  What do you do to make your workplace more healthy?  If you're a blogger, do you get sketchy offers?

13 comments:

  1. When I worked at UVA, I worked in cube city on main street, otherwise known as Stacey Hall, which is the old Sears building. Row upon row of cubes and the summer I worked there, the AC was on the blink. I remember walking in the door after work one day and realizing I smelled of other people's BO, so I gave up showering in the morning that summer - there was no point. The building was rank. Every job I've had since, I've made sure I am near a window. I just can't function otherwise. At one job, my desk was situated so that my back was to a wall of windows. I was told my boss thought the windows were 'distracting', so I waited until she went on vacation and then rearranged my office so I could look out and not have my back to it. I moved my series of cooking classes last fall to a kitchen that had large windows (that opened!) from one that was in a basement. Must. Have. Windows.

    Green smoothies - can't do them. Just yuck. I eat plenty of greens, so I guess I don't see the appeal of drinking them. A fruit smoothie however, I am completely on board with. Following my stomach surgery years ago, I was on a smoothie diet for 6 weeks, so that might be part of why they don't appeal as well.

    When my blog was on blogger, I got more sketchy offers than I do on wordpress. I know that's how some bloggers start making money of their blogs - but I can't do it.

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    1. Stacey Hall! Ha! I'm right next door, in that building that used to be a bar, and before that, a plumbing store. My colleagues who were able to prove that our building was legit making them sick were moved to Stacey, but there isn't room for our whole team over there.

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    2. I also worked in Stacey Hall and there must be NO ventilation at all because the whole building reeked of microwave popcorn.

      I haven't had one single work space with a window. Every place I work is called The Gulag. My current place of imprisonment is windowless, as usual, dark, 80 degrees in the winter and 68 in the summer, and I am assaulted by the rank smells of everyone's microwaved feel-good organic Amy's lunches.

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  2. My company is moving to a new building at the end of the year and there are going to be standing desks for the attorneys, but its still up in the air if this privilege will be extended to staff. Womp womp. We do have a natural light, but I sit in a cube too and have to get up and go to the light otherwise it's florescents all the time. What do you put in your green smoothies? I've been making them for a long time, but just yesterday got a really good combination that tasted like a jamba juice smoothie and wasn't too green. I also blend mine for a really really long time to try and really blend in the baby spinach. OJ, milk, strawberries, pineapple, half a banana and greens was really good. The frozen pineapple makes everything taste extra refreshing too.

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    1. I've tried different combinations of things--usually raw baby spinach with frozen mixed berries and sometimes half a banana or a spoonful of that powdered peanut butter. I also tried frozen spinach, thinking that would work better, but it wasn't very good. I'll have to try it with the frozen pineapple.

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    2. My usual smoothie does not involve yogurt because that makes me gag. I use fresh spinach, frozen berries, frozen banana, water, and -- the secret ingredient which will bring shame upon my family for generations -- one packet of Splenda.

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  3. After reading your blog post, I'm feeling incredibly privileged. (Although, I do always tell my daughter that 10 years of college was basically my way of "paying" for a job where you can get that privilege.)

    Since I started teaching, I have always had my own office, and it has always had a window. That window looks out on a fairly nice campus, with a creek running through it. About 5 years ago, the college built a new building, specifically for the math and sciences, so now I have a new office with a nice set of matching office furniture, that fits in the office well and has a good flow for the work I do (in the old building it was all old hand-me-down furniture). In addition to my office window, the next hallway (where the classrooms are located on the interior), is made entirely of windows, and looks down on the creek.

    I get quite a bit of exercise at work, since I'm on my feet during lecture and lab portions of the classes. If I need handouts, I get to walk down that glass-walled hallway to the copy machine, and to increase the number of steps I'll often make a loop around the floor, rather than returning the way I came. Additionally, my schedule is flexible enough that I can leave to swim in the afternoon several times a week, at a time when the Y pool is fairly empty. Other than teaching and office hours, I do a lot of my work from home. I could use a better office chair --Mondays are the one day I'm on campus and sitting a lot. I get to campus around 9 am, but don't teach until 1:30 pm. I love that time in my office, and usually get lots of class prep and work done, but my back hurts after sitting in that chair for so long, even though I make sure to take short walks and stretch it out. But it's only one day a week, so I haven't explored any other options.

    We have a conference room a couple of doors down from my office with a microwave, Keurig, and mini-fridge. We also have great, filtered, cold water available on each floor of the building, specifically for filling reusable water bottles. (The building got LEED certification, which is why it includes things like that.) However, while I keep healthy food at home and make sure to have a good complement of fruits and veggies in my diet, I don't generally stress too much about my food intake. During the times I'm on campus, I'm usually too busy to eat, but I'll often pick up a nice salad on my way home --I love them, but I'm not good at having the multitude of ingredients at home to make good ones.

    While there have been periods during my 20 years of teaching where the stress has been higher, in general it's not a high-stress job. (Different from secondary school teaching --I think that's probably much higher stress.) Also, after 20 years, I've realized that many of the issues I either fought or tried to solve in my younger years just cycle back around again. Once I realized that, I let go of those battles and focused on what I could control: what goes on in my classroom. I love my job, and if the administration has a hoop I need to jump through for no good reason, I just try to jump quietly and get it over with :-) Or I use up part of my allowance of "personal time" and avoid it.

    My husband has psoriasis, and it's always better in the summer, when he spends a lot more time outside, in shorts and short sleeves. However, he's never taken a Vitamin D supplement in the winter --we might have to look into that.

    And I do get sketchy offers on my blog, and so far have always ignored them.

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    1. You are lucky! Shitty work environments seem to be the norm in the institution I work for. Even some physician offices are pretty grim and other people are literally working out of converted broom cupboards.

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  4. My UVa job isn't particularly challenging or cerebral, but I have a window and I am NOT letting go of that! I am also not letting go of the four-day work week that I negotiated when I was pregnant with the first baby. I take walks during the day and have just started taking short breaks and doing Fitness Blender videos, at my desk ("Tank top ready arms!" Ughhhhh). Nobody can really see me and I know I need to move more often throughout the day. I started taking Vitamin D last autumn and it has helped my immune system tremendously. Green smoothies - I need my smoothies to be almond milk-based with berries, bananas and a little almond butter. A tiny amount of green stuff goes unnoticed with this recipe. But once I hit a 'grit' threshold - I can't handle it!

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    1. "Grit threshold"--that's exactly right. I will experiment with using a smaller amount of green stuff. And green smoothies look so unappealing. I made one with blueberries and spinach that was the best-tasting one of all, but it looked like a GI bleed.

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  5. My workplace is my home office. It is probably fairly unhealthy as a workplace, but I have no one to blame for that but myself. I have to force myself to stand up and walk around the house periodically, or I just might get permanently stuck to my chair. It sounds to me like you get a huge amount of exercise!

    I have never been able to like smoothies.

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  6. I work in a cinderblock cell and I totally know what you mean about windows and natural light!
    Fortunately, I DO get to move around as much as I like, so that's a perk.

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  7. My office has windows but my husband worked for years in offices with no windows -- and he has psoriasis. In the past, he has done light therapy but he started on Vitamin D last winter and it does seem to help. When I was given craft space in our last house down in the basement, I couldn't use it -- and not just because of the mouse turds I found in my stamp-cleaning pad!
    I can't seem to choke down a green smoothie but my husband makes green soups (basically a smoothie in soup mode) and serves them most nights of the week. I find it's easier to eat with a spoon as a soup than to try to drink down anything gritty.

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