Tips to Maintain Healthy Habits After Returning to the Office

Focus on movement, nutrition and relaxation practices
woman at work walkingup stairs

Long hours sitting at your office desk staring at a computer. Bumper-to-bumper commuting that adds extra hours of idle time. A way-too-tight schedule that takes you into a drive-thru line for dinner out of a paper sack.

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Sighhh. That wasn’t your life during the work-from-home period of the COVID-19 pandemic when you found time for short walks around the neighborhood and homemade meals.

Don’t despair, though: You can maintain and build on the healthy habits you established at your home office. All it takes is a little planning, says preventive medicine specialist Sandra Darling, DO.

So let’s get moving on putting together a strategy.

Find ways to stay active at work

Sitting at your desk for eight hours can feel absolutely exhausting. There’s a reason why, too: It really does make you tired. Not moving for long periods signals your body to enter sleep mode, leading to fatigue.

Start moving, though, and your energy levels build. “When you get your heart rate up, that releases endorphins — those feel-good chemicals in your body,” says Dr. Darling.

The good news? You can set those endorphins free through simple acts such as:

  • Parking at the far end of the lot. (Yes, that means forgoing that tantalizing open spot mere steps from the entrance.)
  • Trekking up the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Using a standing desk. Dr. Darling suggests 10 minutes of standing per hour to break up long stretches of sitting. “Sitting less will give your metabolism a boost,” she says. 

To take your office activity to another level, consider purchasing an under-the-desk exercise bike to pedal through your day. They are relatively inexpensive, with some models costing less than $50.

“You can keep your legs moving while you work,” says Dr. Darling. “It’s a great way to work physical activity into your day.”

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Using a smartwatch to track steps also can be a motivator. If you see by noon you’ve only taken 1,000 steps, that fact may encourage you to go for a brisk afternoon walk instead of sitting down to sip a latte.

The key is just to find opportunities to work your body. Dr. Darling notes that this doesn’t require scheduling a 30-minute session at the gym (though that’s great if you can work it into your schedule.)

“It does not have to be formal exercise,” she says. “Just get more movement.” 

As an added perk, this extra physical activity can have added benefits such as:

  • Improving your mood.
  • Reducing anxiety, stress and depression.
  • Improving your sleep.
  • Lose weight.

Plan healthy meals and snacks at the office

Making less-than-healthy eating choices is often a byproduct of a busier schedule. “It’s so easy to reach for convenience foods or grab fast food for lunch,” says Dr. Darling.

Avoiding that trap requires some preparation for meals and munchies.

Batch cooking on the weekend can help keep lunch boxes filled for the workweek. Prepared-in-advance food like grilled chicken, brown rice and steamed broccoli offer building blocks for nutritious packed meals.

“It’s simple, delicious and filling and gives you the nutrients you need to power through the day,” Dr. Darling says.

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For snacking, keep healthy convenience foods handy at your desk to avoid hitting the office vending machine. Examples include:

  • Mixed nuts.
  • Fresh or dried fruit.
  • Olives.
  • Tuna or salmon pouches.

“It’s critical to take the time to prepare healthy food in advance that you can bring to work,” says Dr. Darling. “Living a healthy lifestyle does require some effort. I can’t emphasize enough the need to plan ahead.” 

Embrace relaxation practices during and after your workday

Don’t underestimate the added stress that may come with a return to the office amidst ongoing concerns about the pandemic, says Dr. Darling. Relaxation practices can help keep pressure from building.

She suggested activities such as:

Try to limit your screen time scrolling through social media sites or in front of the TV, too. And make sure to get enough sleep so that you enter each day refreshed and ready for what’s ahead.

“The bottom line is there’s a lot of stress right now,” says Dr. Darling. “We can’t change that, but we can change how we respond to it.”

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