In your lifetime, you can expect to spend an average of 90,000 hours at work or working. That’s a lot of your life wasted if you hate your job! According to a survey by Deloitte in 2010, 80% of people were dissatisfied with their jobs, so it’s no wonder so many people take unnecessary sick days, with Monday being the most common day to call in sick. Sitting at a desk all day can even be deadly, with 86% of people having to spend their workday sitting in a chair. And with more and more people choosing to work through lunch and do overtime, this can cause all sorts of health issues such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. But can working in an office and hating your job have more than just the obvious negative effects? And what can we do to combat the health risks?

As a personal trainer, I am truly spoilt when it comes to my working lifestyle. I’m self employed so I make my own schedule — although when people think this means I can work whenever I want it doesn’t quite work like that! If a client wants a 6am session, you bet I’ll say yes every time. But still, I am out and about and moving all day long which is such an important part of my healthy lifestyle. I average over 12,000 steps every day, and that’s just walking around the gym while training my clients, it doesn’t include the 1–2 hours of training I do on top of that.

So what happened when I went and worked in an office for 8 weeks? Well, I knew it would be bad, but nothing could have prepared me for the emotional, mental, and physical rollercoaster that I experienced.

The office itself was relatively small compared to most London offices, with around 75 members of staff split over 3 floors. The sales team, the IT team, the admin team, the maintenance crew, and the HR personnel, which was where I was based. The hours of work were 8:30am-5:30pm (the days of the 9–5 truly are dead it would seem) and I always got there around 15 minutes early because I had a 1 hour commute each morning in very unpredictable traffic. The commute itself was an awful start to my day; having to endure other motorists’ road rage and crawling traffic for 40 miles every morning meant that I was exhausted and irritable before I even got to my desk. The bright fluorescent lights and faint stale odour welcomed me to my desk every morning, and my fate of sitting in one place for the next 9 hours.

With my professional fitness and nutritional training, I made every effort to stay as active and healthy as possible during my time here, but it was a bigger struggle than I ever could have imagined. I prepped and packed my own food every day so that I wouldn’t need to buy highly processed, packaged foods for lunch or be tempted to mindlessly snack on the array of biscuits, crisps, and cakes that plagued the entire office building. My personal training clients who lead stressful, hectic office-based lives always tell me how difficult it is working in an office, especially when it’s someone’s birthday and they bring in more food, but I really didn’t think it would be this hard. I gained a lot more respect for my clients during this time.

The first thing that I noticed was how different all the employees looked in their work photos. The photos were taken when they first started working in the office, for a lot of them that meant 5 or even 10 years ago. The most notable difference was not that they had aged at all, it was that they had all gained a considerable amount of weight. Every single one of them. The next thing I noticed were the unhealthy habits that they seemed to justify. One of my colleagues told me how she never eats breakfast, but I’d watch her drink numerous cups of sugary tea and fizzy drinks all morning. The boss would even drink a cup of tea every hour on the hour all day long.

Come lunchtime, I would take my chicken and tomatoes that I’d cooked at home and go for a walk around the park to try and get moving. No matter how good my intentions were to move around during the morning, I always ended up anchored to my desk. I couldn’t even make a journey out of the walk to the restroom as it was no more than a few steps away from where I sat. My colleague would go to a supermarket and buy the lunchtime meal deal, consisting of a pasta salad, bag of crisps, and sugary drink. She did this every day without fail.

Throughout the afternoon, I tried as hard as possible not to give in to the crisps that sat on our desk or the cakes and biscuits in the admin office. If ever I had to go in there to do filing or shredding, I ended up taking a biscuit, sometimes without even thinking. One afternoon, my colleague sat and worked her way through an entire sharing bag of crisps. She justified it by saying that it was because she had a cold, and “you have to feed a cold”. True story. I didn’t dare tell her that she probably had the cold in the first place because her lifestyle was killing her immune system and that eating highly processed, salty, chemical-laden carbs probably wouldn’t help.

By the end of the day, my back and shoulders were aching from sitting in an uncomfortable chair and the commute home meant I was so exhausted and miserable that the gym was completely and unbearably out of the question. Besides, I only had a couple of hours of free time at home before I had to go to bed so that I could get up the next morning and face it all over again. Time which I dutifully spent making my breakfast and lunch for the next day in a pathetic attempt to stay healthy.

Over the first 4 weeks working in the office, I gained 4lbs in weight, which was definitely just fat and no muscle. Over the following 4 weeks, I continued to gain. The fascinating thing is, I had not changed my eating habits one bit. If anything, I was eating less because I had so much less time to eat thanks to being chained to a desk all day. This proves that the simple fact that I was not moving as much led to a very unhealthy weight gain in only 8 weeks. 3 months later and I am still trying to undo the damage that working in this environment did to my body!

But what about the other factors, such as my emotional and mental health? The dramatic sugar spikes and drops that my colleagues were experiencing all day every day, combined with the lack of rest, close working quarters, and dire commute, meant that everyone was more than a little tetchy to say the least. I cried. A lot. I even started having severe nosebleeds which I definitely couldn’t have predicted. I spent an entire afternoon at my desk with my head tilted back and pinching my nose to try and stop the flow which lasted over an hour. I got another one the next day, and another the day after that. It was then that I decided it was time to call it quits before my health really suffered. My waistline had expanded, my eyes were sore from crying, and now my head decided to spontaneously combust. If this wasn’t enough to prove how unhealthy it is sitting at a desk all day and hating your job, I don’t know what is.

But having read about my awful experience, you may be sitting there thinking “Yikes! But what options do I have!?” Thankfully, there are lots of ways you can stay healthy when working in an office. Here are my 5 top tips to staying healthy, even if your job is trying to kill you.

1.Get moving!

Now that I’m in my dream job as a copywriter for an international fitness brand, the company I work for have an innovative scheme that they call EHOH. It stands for Every Hour On the Hour and it doesn’t refer to drinking a cup of tea every hour on the hour! It refers to the fact we can get up and go outside for 10 minutes each hour in the morning to get away from staring at a screen and to avoid the health risks associated with sitting down all day. Sometimes I run, sometimes I walk, sometimes I skip! Just those little 10 minute breaks have such a big influence on not only my health but my work performance too. In return for those 30 minutes, we have a shortened 30 minute lunch break, which we usually use to exercise too. Sometimes we box together, or put together a circuit, or go and do sprint intervals on the beach. The possibilities are endless! After a tough 30 minute high intensity workout, I really appreciate my lunch which I eat at my desk afterwards. It could be worth pitching this idea to your boss, you never know, they might love it!

2. Work from home.

According to the office for national statistics, a record number of people are choosing to work from home, with home workers making up nearly 14% of all those in work in the UK in 2014. A number of my clients work from home at least one day a week, it’s certainly worth discussing this option with your boss. Working from home means you can make a fresh, healthy lunch and sit down at a table to eat it. You can get up and move around every hour, even if it’s just a walk from one end of the house to the other or round the garden a few times. Every little helps.

3. Track your activity

Counting your steps and tracking your food are great indicators of how healthy (or not!) you are without needing fancy equipment. There are plenty of free apps that you can use to track your food, and most smartphones have a built-in step counter so you don’t need an expensive activity watch. Do you take public transport to work? Try getting off the tube or the bus 2 stops before your usual one and walk the difference, or if you commute by train, try getting off 1 stop early on the way home and walk the rest of the way. These little changes will make a huge difference to your lifestyle.

4. Don’t skip the gym!

This is one of the best pieces of advice I can give. Trust me, I know that feeling of really not wanting to go to the gym after a long day. Especially on the days where there are delays on public transport or extra traffic on the drive home. But take your gym kit to work with you and just go. Don’t think about it, just do it. A short workout is better than no workout at all. Even a quick blast on the treadmill or cross-trainer will be enough to brush away the cobwebs from being sedentary all day.

5. Set yourself small, achievable goals.

My final piece of advice is to set yourself goals. For me, I set a small goal of running further and faster in each of my 10 minute breaks in the morning. It’s small, it’s achievable, it’s measurable, and it keeps me motivated. Plus, when I achieve it, I feel really great which motivates me to work harder when I’m back at my desk.

Now it’s time to put it into practice! Make small changes every day and you’ll soon notice a change in your work performance, relationships, and general outlook on life. And stay away from the cakes!

About the author: Alexandra is a qualified personal trainer and nutritionist living in Essex, UK. She has been in the fitness industry for several years and makes it her life’s work to help others get healthy and enjoy their lives more using her own personal experiences. Follow her journey on Instagram @alexfitnessxo

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