Greg starts his day by hitting the "snooze" button three times before finally getting out of bed. He skips breakfast as he attempts to get a jump-start on his long commute. If he leaves too late, he'll add an additional 30 minutes of travel time to his day because of traffic.
Fortunately, he slides into his cubicle just before 9 a.m. and tackles the day's tasks. For the next 8 hours, he moves from his cubicle three times: twice to use the restroom, and once to heat up his lunch. As the day winds down, Greg's stress levels rise. He has deadlines looming and still hasn't prepared for a major sales-pitch business trip next week.
Forced to stay late to get the day's essential tasks done, Greg finds himself stuck in the worst of the traffic on his way home. His usual 60-minute commute ends up doubling, and as he reaches his exit, fast food suddenly sounds like a better idea than cooking.
Sound familiar? Is your job, and all that it entails, sabotaging your health and fitness goals? Discover the four major obstacles a job may present to your goals and the many solutions to help overcome them!
Problem 1: Long Work Commute
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average travel time to work is 25.4 minutes in the United States. Unfortunately, this doesn't bode well for your physical health, as it greatly reduces the time you can spend on healthy habits such as sleep, exercise, and meal prep.
Researchers at Brown University found that people who spend an hour or more each day commuting to work spend 28-35 percent less time sleeping, 16 percent less time exercising, and 4 percent less time meal prepping. Furthermore, in an analysis of over 4,000 commuters in the United States, researchers found that longer car commutes were associated with increases in body mass, body fat, waist size, high blood pressure, and obesity.
The study, published in the Journal of American Preventative Medicine, showed that individuals who commuted 15 or more miles per day were 7 percent more likely to be obese than those with shorter commutes.
It's hard to simply pick up and move closer to your work, and I don't recommend you suddenly quit your current job to find a closer one. However, one option to consider is discussing the opportunity to work from home every so often, or to even change your hours to avoid peak traffic time. This can help cut back on time spent in the car, which may ultimately boost happiness, health, and even productivity.
Furthermore, consider biking to work—you'll start and end each day with an exercise-induced rush of feel-good endorphins!
Problem 2: Sedentary Desk Job
According to a study published in PLoS One, 50 percent of today's jobs call for minimal physical activity: a sharp decline from the 80 percent of jobs that were physically active more than 50 years ago. Researchers defined minimal physical activity using a value called metabolic equivalents (METs). Those who were "minimally" physically active fell below 2.9 METs, which is similar to the amount of energy you would burn fishing when standing on a dock.
Researchers estimated between 120-140 fewer calories burned per day in more sedentary jobs. Add that up over the course of the weeks, months, and years, and it becomes easy to see how it can be a major contributing factor to obesity rates.
Speak with your company about the potential of purchasing a standing or treadmill desk. It never hurts to ask. Since the idea that "sitting is the new smoking" is gaining more traction in the workplace, your company might view this as a productivity investment.
Additionally, take a stretch or walk break every hour. Set your alarm as a friendly reminder. Not only will this help boost health, but it may foster creativity and enhanced workplace productivity, too!
Problem 3: Job Stress
Let's face it: We all have some kind of stress as a result of our job. In fact, reports suggest that work is the greatest source of stress for adults in the U.S., with an estimated 8 in 10 employees feeling stressed out by their jobs.
Research continues to link chronic stress with an array of physical, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems. These problems include anxiety, depression, weight gain, and digestive problems. With high levels of stress, you're more likely to lose willpower, give into temptations, and make choices at odds with your fitness and health goals.
Remember Greg, from the beginning of this story? The stresses of his day sucked his willpower right out of him and ultimately factored into his last-minute decision to opt for a fast-food meal rather than a home-cooked meal. Not to mention that he skipped his daily workout altogether!
There are numerous tweaks you can make to your day to reduce stress. For starters, consider beginning your day by waking up earlier and knocking out your workout first thing in the morning. Exercise releases mood-enhancing endorphins that can help you ward off anxiety, build your self-esteem and self-confidence, and even improve your mental performance.
Additionally, consider incorporating 5-10 minutes of meditation each day. Headspace, a popular meditation app, claims that regular practice leads to peace of mind and wellbeing, greater focus and creativity, and better relationships.
Finally, make the time to prepare food ahead of time. Cook food in bulk, prepare specific meals for the week, or take 10 minutes before work to prepare a delicious slow-cooker meal that will be ready when you get home.
Problem 4: Frequent Travel
To some people, work-related travel is a highlight of their job. But for many, it throws a wrench in their routine, replacing healthy, home-cooked meals with airport, restaurant, and hotel fare.
In some instances, you may not be able to control how much you travel for your job. Rather than suffering through these days, make time to prepare and plan ahead, so that you can stay on track with your health and fitness goals.
For starters, pack plenty of travel-friendly snacks ahead of time. Convenient, travel-friendly snacks include whey and casein protein, protein bars, protein chips, beef jerky, lean deli meat, low-fat Greek yogurt, oats, fruit, nuts, seeds, and nut butters.
Be sure to call ahead, too, to see whether or not you'll have access to a fridge and microwave—this will help you best determine which snacks to bring. Choose wisely when ordering out, focusing on lean proteins, vegetables, and ample calorie-free fluids at each meal to help keep fullness in check.
Additionally, don't use the fact that your hotel has no gym—or an outdated gym—as an excuse to miss training. Pack a resistance band, and follow one of these hotel-friendly workouts!
- Commute Times in Your Area | WNYC. (n.d.). Retrieved August 30, 2016, from https://project.wnyc.org/commute-times-us/embed.html#5.00/42.000/-89.500
- Christian, T. J. (2012). Trade-offs between commuting time and health-related activities. Journal of Urban Health, 89(5), 746-757.
- Hoehner, C. M., Barlow, C. E., Allen, P., & Schootman, M. (2012). Commuting distance, cardiorespiratory fitness, and metabolic risk. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 42(6), 571-578.
- Church, T. S., Thomas, D. M., Tudor-Locke, C., Katzmarzyk, P. T., Earnest, C. P., Rodarte, R. Q., ... & Bouchard, C. (2011). Trends over 5 decades in US occupation-related physical activity and their associations with obesity. PloS one, 6(5), e19657.
- Oppezzo, M., & Schwartz, D. L. (2014). Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(4), 1142.
- Lloyd, Ken; Lloyd, Stacey Laura. Is Your Job Making You Fat?: How to Lose the Office 15...and More! (Kindle Locations 2081-2084). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
- Lovallo, W. R. (2015). Stress and health: Biological and psychological interactions. Sage Publications.
- Gailliot, M. T., Baumeister, R. F., DeWall, C. N., Maner, J. K., Plant, E. A., Tice, D. M., ... & Schmeichel, B. J. (2007). Self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: willpower is more than a metaphor. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(2), 325.