Isn't it odd how the mere action of finger tapping, keying in those same 26 letters over and over again in endless variations, seems to whip up a rabid appetite by 11 A.M.? No wonder offices are stocked with more candy than pencils. And what's with modern desk-chair design? Sit in one at the beginning of the day and you're down for the duration. Not all of us spend more than half our waking hours (count them) rooted to office furniture, cultivating obesity. Some of us work on our feet all day, drumming up varicose veins; others live off airplane trays, grabbing sleep between time zones—none of it exactly health promoting. Job stress alone is known to cause heart disease, depression, and musculoskeletal problems. And levels of stress-related illnesses are nearly twice as high for working women as for men, because of factors such as continuing discrimination, sexual harassment, and the burden of home demands, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Even those of us in dream jobs find ourselves hydroplaning between career and Other Life (family, friends, culture, reading, sex, leisure), afraid that if we slow down anywhere we'll skid out of control.
Admittedly, you can't always change jobs. But there are many ways, some of them quite easy, to make your work environment a lot healthier, according to the LLuminari group's 15 doctors and women's wellness experts. Slipping a little exercise into the day, for example, is like spraying oneself with stress repellent. And busting up the sugar-caffeine cartel helps prevent those short-lived spikes in productivity that are followed by the decline of civilization as you and your coworkers know it. Simply buying a flower every Monday morning—one lily or narcissus—will make your cubicle smell nice for the whole week.
Having grappled with weighty careers themselves, the LLuminari experts here offer their best work-improvement ideas. Most important: To make a good living, the emphasis should be on the "living."
2. Sit on a big exercise ball instead of a chair. You'll save your back and feel more energetic. Ask whether your company will do an ergonomic assessment of your workspace. Many do.
3. Look away from the computer screen every 45 minutes to relieve eyestrain. And stand up for a minute every hour to avoid low-back pain.
4. Pick a special day to celebrate yourself. Have a picnic lunch with a coworker, schedule a mammogram, skip out for a quick shopping spree.
5. Don't wait to inhale. If your boss or a deadline sends you into a panic, do a mini-meditation, suggests Alice Domar, PhD, director of the Mind/Body Center for Women's Health at Boston IVF and the author of Self-Nurture: Close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath; imagine you're lying in a field, or just focus on your breathing. If that doesn't work to dispel the anxiety and help you deal with the crisis, Susan Love, MD, medical director of her eponymous Breast Cancer Foundation and the author of Dr. Susan Love's Menopause & Hormone Book, suggests an alternative approach: Ask yourself, "What's the worst that could happen?" You might say, "The boss will yell at me." Then ask again, What's the worst that could happen? You yell back? You apologize? The point is, Love says, "No one's going to die."
6. Wash your hands every time you pass a sink—it's the best way to avoid catching the current office bug. If a coworker comes in coughing or feverish, encourage her to go home.
7. See the light. If you feel lethargic, depressed, and carb crazy at work, poor office lighting may be giving you mild symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), says Norman Rosenthal, MD, an expert on SAD at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and the author of The Emotional Revolution. Try a desk lamp designed for SAD sufferers (you can find them for $225 to $250 at SunBox.com and Amazon.com), and make it a point to get outside for lunch.
8. Control your e-mail time. Block off five or ten minutes a few times a day to open and answer messages, and if possible avoid reading them as they pop into your box.
9. Leave it behind. When you head home for the day, walk or commute without mulling over work (we dare you!); if you drive, listen to music. "Feel the freedom of walking away and going to another area of life," says LLuminari CEO Elizabeth Browning.
10. Ask for help. If you're in a bind, see if a coworker will pitch in for you with the promise that you'll cover for her the next time she's in a crisis.
11. Make sure you're not working too hard. This can be tricky, according to LLuminari experts, some of whom have trouble figuring it out for themselves. "Maybe this is a time in your life to pull out all the stops," Browning says. "Michelangelo didn't paint the Sistine Chapel between nine and five." Are you comfortable with the effort you're putting in? Or—and here's where the long hours get unhealthy—do you have such a heavy workload you practically need to sleep at the office to get your job done? Then again, are you using work to avoid being at home? Is your job the only thing that gives you a sense of self-worth? Depending on your answers, you may want to talk to your boss about delegating some of your responsibilities, or to a therapist to address the problems that are driving you to live at the office.
12. Ask yourself once this month what you want to be when you grow up. Is it what you're doing now? If not, can you take more pleasure and pride in your job, even if it's only helping you pay the bills for the moment? Is it time to reinvent yourself?
13. Schedule a 30-minute break into your workday—for tomorrow. Write it down in your calendar or PalmPilot, tack it up on your bulletin board next to what to do in case of fire. If a half hour is tough to swallow, start with ten minutes. But tomorrow, take that break. Doctors' orders.
14. If you work in a high-rise, take the stairs every time you have to go up or down five flights. At lunch choose a restaurant that's a 15-minute walk away. Hurry there and back (you'll have more time to eat), and you can get one and a half or even two miles under your belt.
15. When you make a phone call, stand on one leg. "I balance on my right foot for as long as I can. And when I get fatigued, I go to my left," says surgeon Nancy Snyderman, MD, the author of Girl in the Mirror. It strengthens your legs and keeps your balance sharp.
16. Get up and walk around the block once a day to break the routine and clear your mind. Take a friend with you for extra stress-busting.