We spend so much time at work, it’s impossible for it to not impact on our daily wellbeing, so here, former world champion athlete and workplace health expert, Sally Gunnell, explains why looking after yourself should always have a place on your to-do list …
My career has been a giant leap away from a typical desk job, but for many years now I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of visiting some of the world’s leading businesses and meeting some fascinating people from all kinds of working environments. From office workers at their desks to sales assistants on the shop floor, all the way up to CEOs of huge multinationals, I always see parallels with the world of sport. I learned, sometimes the hard way, how to get the most out of myself. What I keep finding in my current work, speaking at corporate events and conferences, is that the challenges of performing well in sport are echoed in the business world.
Sport and business can both be highly competitive, and the path to success or progress can be a struggle at times. A little bit of pressure and stress can be a good thing, but when we feel “stressed” our performance declines, whether you’re out on the track or in the boardroom. If you’re always struggling to get the competitive edge, constantly putting yourself under pressure, fatigue creeps in.
As an athlete I had rest days and recovery sessions built into my training plan, but the temptation to keep pushing was huge. I learned that sometimes you need to put yourself first, because if you’re unhappy and stressed you’ll never get into the right mind set to reach your goal. Rest, stay focused and positive, and you’ll come back stronger and perform better.
So what if there were some small changes you could make to be kind to yourself on a daily basis AND help give you an edge in your career? Would you give them a go?
Breakfast of Champions
The average British breakfast doesn’t have enough protein, fat or complex carbohydrate to keep you going until your mid-morning coffee, let alone lunch. If you’re distracted by hunger you won’t be doing your best at work, and it’s very easy to get into the habit of snacking on whatever food you can find, or raiding the biscuit tin. This kind of eating means your blood sugar will keep fluctuating as the refined carbs (cereal, white toast, biscuits, etc.) spike blood sugar quickly, leading to the insulin response lowering blood sugar below normal levels. That makes you crave more sugar, and the cycle repeats itself.
One of the other common habits is hardly eating or not eating at all at breakfast and under eating all day, as it may seem that eating less should lead to weight loss. In fact, not getting enough calories on a medium to long term basis will cause a starvation response, where your body stores fat instead of burning it. While your body is getting the energy it needs for basic function, it’s a far cry from optimal performance.
So treat yourself to scrambled or poached eggs on wholemeal toast, with spinach, rocket and tomatoes. Breakfast is a great opportunity, missed by most, to get key nutrients into your diet. Eggs are loaded full of vitamins and have a balance of protein and fat to keep you fuelled up and raring to go until lunch time. I think a lot of people see this as a naughty treat, but there’s nothing to be guilty about. Do get organic eggs though – they are much more nutrient rich because the chickens are ranged properly and given fresher, more natural feed.
Back to Basics
The importance of good posture when you are standing or sitting most of the day cannot be underestimated. Sitting in the same chair, at the same desk, day in, day out can encourage a slouched posture. If this is adopted in the long term your body will start to adapt to this position, leading to a rounded upper back and shoulders, and a backwards tilt in the pelvis. This can cause back pain and other physical discomfort, but it can also contribute to low self-esteem, negative body image and lack of confidence.
Poor posture is extremely common in office workers who are at the computer all day, but even if you’ve been suffering from this problem for many years there’s nothing to worry about. You just have to start re-training the muscles in your back to hold your spine and hips in position.
-Sit down with your bum against the back of the chair, feet flat on the floor, with a 90 degree bend in the knees. Sit up nice and tall and pull your shoulder blades together – chest out, shoulders back! Unless you have a well designed ergonomic chair, your back probably won’t be touching the chair at all.
-Look straight ahead. If your computer screen is not directly in front of your face, move it up or down so it’s at eye level, with the aid of a monitor/laptop riser.
-As soon as you feel your shoulders come forward, your back round or your hips sag backwards, stand up and reset your posture by tensing the muscles in your bum, stomach and back – chest out, shoulders back. Then sit down again and repeat whenever you start losing your posture. You might be amazed at how quickly those back muscles fatigue and your posture goes, but stick with it.
For a bit of help and variation try swapping chairs whenever you need a posture boost. Find somewhere to work while standing up, or try sitting on a Swiss ball for short periods. Take a rolled up towel into work as this can transform any chair into your personalised ergonomic solution. Try placing it vertically along your spine to encourage bringing the shoulders back, or horizontally in the lumbar region to stabilise the hips and maintain the natural curve of your spine. You can also use it as a wedge to sit on and stop your pelvis from tilting backwards.
Try to add in some back strengthening exercises and stretches to your weekly routine and you’ll be sitting up straight and feeling more confident and alert in no time.
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