A recent investigation into Australian Workplace Practices has highlighted the fact that almost 66% of Australia's workforce don't take an adequate lunch break. Often our workers are staying at the desk and working through the full day without receiving adequate space and breaks to recharge and re-energise.
This has implications on productivity and effectiveness as well as our health. We have all heard the adage 'work smarter not harder'. There is no point spending hours at the desk without a break as you just don't perform better. We all know it's true, you can't maintain productive responses and effective processing when you have been seated in a fixed position in front of a computer for hours on end.
As a Remedial Therapist, I am constantly dealing with postural conditions and tension that is caused from long hours spent at the desk. Lower back pain caused by consistent hip flexion flattening the lumbar curve, poor cervical posture from working on computers, bad shoulder alignment and protracted scapulas from working forward, pelvic tilts, tight hamstrings ... the list goes on. I am always telling people, GET AWAY FROM THE DESK, despite you thinking that you possibly can't - you really CAN. When I am doing admin, I always try to ensure that at least 5min out of every hour, I get away from the desk, stand up and do something else, even if it is just walking to the kitchen and preparing a cup of tea. Or going to visit the boys at Mecca Espresso! it was instilled in me from the days of High School study. Set the alarm clock for 55min. That 5 min break saves you time and prevents you from making the mistakes that you have to go back and fix later.
A study undertaken by IGA Direct in July 2013 found:
§ The typical Aussie lunch break is between 15-30 minutes
§ 37 per cent of us spend lunchtime catching up on phone calls; 31 per cent do personal admin, 30 per cent go shopping and 24 per cent catch up on social media
§ 31 per cent of us eat lunch in a communal area at/near work
§ 7 per cent use their lunch break to go to the gym
§ Almost one in three (28 per cent) of people habitually eat at their desk; 33 per cent are skipping lunch entirely once or more a week; and 10 per cent work through their lunch break.
One of the benefits cited for taking an adequate lunch break is the management of stress and emotions. Taking a break to re-set and re-charge from your daily activities allows the psychological resources (ie decision processes, managing equations, effective operation of machinery) to be more honed as you are not exhausting yourself and your body. We are not machines and cannot keep continually processing and operating without rest and recharging.
A 2010 study in the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, talks about the Hypothalmic Pituitary Adrenal Axis (HPA) which is linked to the stress response and secretion of cortisol. The effects of cortisol on health, digestion and recovery from exercise are well documented and have even been covered in previous blogs here. Ideally - you want to reduce your levels of cortisol secretion and ensuring adequate rest - taking a lunch break contributes to this vital process and ensures cortisol is not in high levels over extended periods.
Obviously lunch is about ingesting food and getting fuel to ensure you can continue working effectively but perhaps more importantly, you have energy to play after work! Eating a nutritious and balanced lunch meal is vital for any person who wants to partake in physical activity or even just have energy to use after the 5pm gong. Even when fasting, the lunch hour is when you should start thinking about ingesting food or fuel into your body to ensure you have energy for the afternoon.
Its also about what you use your lunch break for. It's not just about stepping away from the desk but getting out of the office. Going green and being in fresh air is the most effective way to use your lunch break. I so understand those bunnies that go for a jog in the lunch hour. Getting out in the park for just 20min is enough to recharge and reinvigorate your body, especially if you are stuck in an air-conditioned environment. Get some sunshine on your dial - melanin is important to stimluate your circadian rhythms and keep you alert and awake - this only comes from sunshine. And turn off the mobile. Getting away from screens and digital media is also important to give the brain a digital detox. Look up and let the sunshine in!
Now I am guilty of this myself. I often work through a full afternoon and when I forget my lunch and don't eat - its not pretty for anyone. An old boss used to say that it was only safe to approach me when I had food in my hand. I was placated - and he was right. Scheduling a lunch break into your day is vital and it does make you more productive, proactive and pleasant. It's too important to miss.