If you’re an “average” American, there’s a good chance you’re overweight and overworked. Americans who are employed full time spend an average of 47 hours each week working, according to Gallup, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies nearly 70 percent of adults over age 20 as overweight or obese. Whether you’re conscious of the effects of your job on your health, research suggests work and weight are intertwined.
When you focus on living a healthy life, you may think about what meals you’re cooking at home or how to fit in some time at the gym. But even if you’re only working 40 hours each week, you’re spending more time working than you are with family, on recreation or catching up on your sleep, according to the American Time Use Survey. Failing to focus on how these hours affect your health could leave you fat and unwell.
Skipping your first meal may not be the end of the world, but if you’re hitting the drive-thru or stress-eating during your commute, your health could pay. You’re bound to eat more when you’re distracted, according to Harvard Health Publications, and stress— like the kind you get due to a traffic jam— only worsens it. Plus, those biscuits and fried potatoes your favorite fast-food joint offers are hardly the brain food you need to make it through your morning.
2. Your commute
Unless you’re fortunate enough to work from home or live within walking distance of the office, you’re likely spending some time in your car each morning and again during the 5 p.m. scramble home. A study that looked at nearly 4,300 residents in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin, Tex., areas discovered longer commute times are associated with higher body mass indices (BMI), blood pressure and waist circumference.
Published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the authors surmised drive time may be taking the place of physical activity, though the associations remained even after adjusting for activity levels. Interestingly, public transportation and the walking associated with catching your bus or train has been linked to a lower risk of obesity.
3. A sedentary workday
Sitting for several hours isn’t only a pain in your backside but could confer numerous health risks, including obesity. And research indicates making time for the gym may not offset these risks.
Try standing while you work, elevating your keyboard with a box or platform if you don’t have access to a standing desk. Also, walk around while you talk on the phone or suggest a walking meeting when you have to sync up with a coworker. In addition to combating weight changes, moving around could help you innovate your way out of a work rut, as researchers from Stanford University found walking boosts creativity by 60 percent.
Some employers go out of their way to cater healthy lunch options, but the majority of people are on their own when it comes to their midday meal. It doesn’t take a nutritionist to understand the benefits of choosing healthy food when you’re at work, but it does take some willpower to resist lunchtime temptations, choose healthful menu options or pack a bagged lunch.
5. Parties, snacks and vending machines
Office parties, vending machine snacks and the amateur baker you work with are all working against your waistline. When food is nearby, we’re more likely to eat it and more likely to actually feel hungry for it, regardless of when we last ate. But snacking in and of itself isn’t bad — it’s not that you’re eating, it’s what you’re eating. Keep fresh fruit, popcorn and other nutrient-dense snacks around for when someone brings donuts or a birthday cake.
More than 80 percent of Americans are stressed out about their jobs, according to a poll from Harris Interactive and Everest College. But knowing you’re not alone in your workplace frustrations doesn’t negate the health effects. Stress affects our eating patterns, impacts our weight-regulating hormones and can kill our motivation to exercise. A study from Kaiser Permanente found stress-free dieters are more likely to reach their goals than those under stress. Further, the researchers found, getting adequate sleep mattered.
7. Lack of sleep
If your work stress is keeping you up at night or if you’re burning the midnight oil to get through your workload, this impact on your sleep is likely affecting your weight. The current body of research indicates those people who sleep less tend to weigh more, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, but balance is important. The Kaiser study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, found participants getting between six and eight hours of sleep to be most likely to achieve their weight loss goals.
The rules of staying healthy apply in the workplace as much as they do at home. Especially because Americans are spending such a large portion of their days at work, it’s important to not drop your health knowledge at the office door.