Stuck At Your Desk or Computer? Health Tips for You!

This article was originally published as Fran’s Holistic Outlook column in The Times Herald Record on January 21, 2010.

If you’re spending long days hunched over a desk or computer, you’re not alone. Here are seven ways to integrate healthier habits into a tough work day.

1. Mom was right.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, just as our mothers told us. Eat a healthy one before you start work, ideally within one hour of waking. This fuels your body and brain for a healthier metabolism and stable blood sugar, which means steadier focus and less fatigue. Plus, eating a balanced breakfast sets you up to have fewer cravings and eat less the rest of the day.
But lose the cereal! Many people consider cereal a healthy breakfast, probably thanks to decades of advertising, but it is not. It is essentially a large dose of refined carbohydrates, and milk only compounds the problem. (The endocrinologist I trained with used milk, rather than orange juice, to quickly raise diabetics’ blood sugar when they were low.)

A balanced meal is a combination of proteins, carbs and a little healthy fat, and should keep you satisfied and focused for about 4-6 hours.

2. Trade java for green tea.

When blood sugar drops and the midmorning (or afternoon) blahs set in, many of us reach for coffee, often laden with corn syrup-based flavors, sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Instead, trade your coffee for green tea. Green tea has caffeine, although less than coffee, but it is metabolized more slowly and gently. That means you won’t have the initial jolt to your blood sugar, or the drop after. (That’s a good thing!) And you will get a nice dose of beneficial nutrients, including antioxidants and polyphenols.

Researchers have found that two to three cups of green tea a day can have potent immune-boosting benefits. While coffee takes a toll on skin, green tea is showing promise as protection against aging from UV radiation.

3. Dump the sweeteners.

Sugar?  High fructose corn syrup (what do you THINK is in your flavored lattes?) Splenda, NutraSweet or Sweet n Low: whether you’re having them in your coffee, tea, soda or snacks, they are draining your energy and your health.

Trade them in for xylitol or stevia, natural sweeteners with no or few calories. Xylitol is actually good for you, and it tastes and looks just like sugar. Trade sodas — diet or regular — for water or club soda. If you are used to highly sweetened beverages, give your palate time to adapt; it will.

4. Pack a snack.

Just say no to the doughnuts, cookies, candies and other junk food that tends to show up anywhere people congregate. Instead, buy some small reusable containers or snack bags, and pack them with nuts. A portion is a small handful, or about two dozen almonds, for instance. It’s perfect: a little protein, some carbs and some healthy fat. Avoid trail mixes if you’re watching your weight: dried fruit is loaded with sugars. Add one of our wonderful local apples. Come prepared, and you will be so much less likely to give in to temptation.

5. Master the stairs.

Does your office have stairs? Can you take a three-minute break? One of the best forms of exercise is burst training. (Of course, check first with your health-care professional before beginning any exercise program.)

Run up the stairs as fast as you can for no more than 60 seconds. If you can’t do a full minute at first, do 20 seconds, wait 20 seconds, then sprint for 20 seconds again, and work yourself up to a full minute. Don’t do more than a minute at a time; it’s actually less effective. Alternative: Many of my clients keep an X-iser portable stepper machine under their desk. It’s small, makes no noise, won’t make you sweaty and many people can share one (some NFL, NBA and MLB teams do).

6. Change your focus.

Eyes are muscles, too, and keeping the same focal length for hours strains them, as well as your neck and shoulders. Take a break at least once an hour to look farther away, ideally, at some of our beautiful Hudson Valley scenery.

7. S-t-r-e-t-c-h!

Here’s a good one. Stand up. Interlace your fingers, then turn your palms away and stretch your arms in front of you, stretching your shoulders and back. Keeping the same hold, cup the base of your skull with your palms, and press your elbows backwards, opening your chest. Now clasp your hands behind you, and bend forward at the hips, bringing your head toward your knees. Bring your arms up gently, as far as you can. Hold for a few deep breaths, bringing fresh oxygenated blood to your brain.

OK, time to go back to work now! I hope you feel restored, rejuvenated and ready to continue your day.

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