We have so much more control over our breakfast than our lunch hour on workdays. With breakfast, you can choose when to have it, whether to eat at home or at your desk, or whether to buy or make your own. Lunch is often dictated by the reset of our work day or other factors outside our control. The time you have varies widely based on what your day looks like, and in many cases buying lunch isn’t an option for people who work in less developed areas. Alternatively, if you work in a major metropolitan area, the temptation to buy lunch is huge.
The lunch break is a time to recharge, to refocus, and to take care of personal business. It is a critical part of your day, and to make the calculation that it “isn’t worth it” is a detriment to your overall health: emotional, physical, and mental. In pursuit of a more healthy life, consider the following to give your lunch break a healthy makeover.
You Must Take a Lunch Break
Step one to your lunch hour break make-over is easy: make sure you take one. The idea that the office will not go on unless you personally work through lunch is not usually accurate. Of course, there are deadlines and meetings that crop up, but every full-time working person must plan to have a lunch break every day. Whether it’s thirty minutes or an hour – or even fifteen minutes on a busy day – this is crucial for your mental and physical health. According to NPR, research shows that only 20 percent of people step away for a lunch break. It’s good for the employee’s mental and physical health, as well as a sense of work-life balance. For the employer or company, it improves the employees afternoon focus and productivity. The best option is to get away from your workspace. That change of environment – no matter how brief – encourages creativity and decreases stress.
People whose work or breaks are mandated by a union or other workplace legislation are more likely to take a lunch break. The same NPR article says that managers or white collar workers in general are the least likely to take a break. Conventional wisdom says that if your boss is working, you should be working. Managers, this is an opportunity to encourage healthy workplace behavior. There is no better way to take care of a business and its staff than by taking basic actions to protect their health. Take a break, and the whole office will benefit.
Take a Walk
Unless we are gym junkies, many of us are not moving enough. The sedentary lifestyle that most offices demand is detrimental to our health in several ways, some of which are not intuitive. The physical consequences alone contribute to a laundry list of chronic physical issues. According to Johns Hopkins, physical inactivity is a risk factor for higher blood pressure, anxiety and depression, certain cancers, and all the issues that come with obesity, if inactivity makes it difficult to maintain a healthy weight for you.
Walking is a low-impact form of exercise that most able-bodied people can do wherever they are. The Mayo Clinic recommends setting a goal of 30 minutes of walking or other moderate exercise per day. New research also points to walking as a way to reduce the effects or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It is also a great opportunity to practice mindfulness, an effective tool for reducing stress and improving mental and physical health.
Many of us are conditioned to think that using most or half or most of our lunch break to walk isn’t productive, or that exercise is something that should be done outside of work hours. On the contrary, walking is one of the most productive ways to use that time! Make sure that you reach your daily step goal at work.
Lunch hour is a great and organic way to get to know your colleagues out of the context of discussing reports or clients. These are the people you spend most of your life with, and having a healthy relationship with them makes everyone’s job easier. Also, it fosters a sense of community and connectedness. If something happens in your personal life and you require the support of colleagues, this will come more naturally if you know about each other’s lives or have a deeper connection.
“I talk to these people all day. We are always going to mixers and happy hours,” you may be thinking. Or more difficult: “I don’t really like them or have anything in common with them.” If that’s the case, this is a great time to socialize with friends or families outside of the office. According to Psychology Today, connecting with friends lowers your risk for dementia and boosts overall brain health. Although much of our socializing does happen outside of the office, a lunch break is a great time to boost your mood and emotional health with a good old fashion chat.
You could call a friend to catch up or hear about their weekend or check in on your parents or grandparents. Even going to your local cafe and saying hi to the regular barista there counts! Lunch at our desks is often a solitary experience, and interacting positively with others will improve your day and long term health.
Pack a Lunch
For some, packing a lunch is a necessity for financial or location-related reasons. For others, packing a lunch feels like a logistical nightmare with all the other requirements in the morning or evening. If possible, packing a lunch at least a few times per week has some serious health benefits.
When you pack a lunch, you know exactly what is in it. You can control the portion, the ratio of ingredients, and the kinds of ingredients you use. According to popular food website The Kitchn, packing a lunch gives you much more control over your nutritional health goals. Whether you’re tracking calories, trying to eat more protein, or attempting portion control, this is easier with a packed lunch. Also, you’re less likely to get that third brownie of the week because it’s speaking to you by the register!
There are ways to make packing a lunch easier and more appealing, courtesy of The Kitchn:
- If you’re making a dinner you love, make sure to make enough for leftovers. You’ll be excited to have it the next day, and you’ve already done the prep.
- Cooking a big batch of lunch food on Sunday can streamline the lunch-making process. Batches of tuna salad, roast veggies, rice, or soups can last for at least a few days.
- Do not try to make yourself eat a lunch you don’t want. If you use your lunch break to try to fall in love with quinoa, you will just end up buying something else.
- Invest in a lunch bag that keeps food completely fresh, and is not cumbersome. You don’t want to forget it or forgo it because it’s inconvenient.
- Buddy up with a friend or coworker. You could bring things for each other in a mini office meal swap. You could make it fun by sharing recipes. This also allows for more social time with them, since you won’t be waiting in line during the local cafe’s lunch rush!
Enjoy your lunch hour!