Everyone needs a break from work, but smoking or hanging out in front of the vending machine are not the best -- or healthiest -- uses of your time. While smoking and mindless snacking on sugary or salty treats might provide a momentary escape from the work day, snacking on fatty foods leads to high abdominal fat and a fatty liver. And according to Dr. Tim McAfee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking could cut about 10 years off your life expectancy.
We teamed up with Aetna to search for ways to turn the time usually spent during a cigarette or snack break -- about 5 to 10 minutes -- into something healthier and more productive. While your workplace may never have ball pits, nap pods or any of the other out-of-the-box office perks that the H.R. department at a tech start ups dreams up, there are many easy ways that you can refresh your mind and body -- while taking a little time for you.
Head outside for Vitamin D (and better cell phone reception.)
Now that it’s getting darker earlier, it makes us all feel a little vampiric when we rarely see the light of day. Sunlight is an important weapon of warding off the dreaded 2:00 PM slump.
In a 2012 study published by Behavioral Neuroscience, introducing even small amounts of natural light in a workplace in the afternoon hours boosted productivity in the hours that followed. But if the sun doesn’t reach you, reach for the sun.
Making a brief phone call to confirm dinner reservations or a flower delivery gives an excuse out of the building and for Vitamin D and better reception and privacy. If colder weather has you avoiding the outdoors then find the nearest accessible window, and enjoy the view of the outside world without the hassle of freezing in the bitter cold. If it’s winter and you work in a cave-like, cubicle set-up where the only windows are hoarded by the executives’ offices, a Seasonal Affective Disorder light box might be a good investment.
Walk up seven flights of stairs.
It takes roughly 10 minutes to walk up seven flights of stairs and physical activity is a great way to increase productivity. What’s good for the body is often beneficial for a healthy mind, too.
In 2011, the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine published a study on the “effects of worksite health interventions involving reduced work hours and physical exercise.” The study found that when hours of were reduced and replaced with physical activity productivity increased and the quality of work produced by employees, as well as reduced the amount of time employees took off for illness. Walking around the block or any other type of quick aerobic exercising like jumping jacks or squats should do the trick.
Return the ugly sweater your mother bought you for your birthday.
Whether it’s an impromptu coffee run or a gift you need to return around the corner, walking away from your workspace for a brief break allows you to reset and encourages your subconscious to uncover new ideas. Leaving the actual building is even better, and makes it easier for you to truly disengage from the work you’re putting on pause and will even restore your energy levels. These types of breaks are most effective when taken for seven to ten minutes every hour or two.
Bonus: that really was an ugly sweater.
Ask a colleague about his or her weekend.
You could ask them how it went or what their plans are. It is a simple conversation that takes an average of three minutes on both sides. Chatting with coworkers about non-work related topics can help your work performance. In a study conducted by GALLUP in 2010, people who had close work friend were reportedly “seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs.”
Chant three ohms, and follow it with 4 minutes of contemplative breathing.
If it’s good enough for the most successful people in the world, it’s good enough for us. Studies have shown that meditation can positively affect a person’s ability to multitask and focus. There are even a number of apps available that provide 10-minute meditation sessions for those short on time.
Watch a collection of funny cat videos with your colleagues.
Many of the “Year’s Best” or other compilations of cat videos are between 5 -10 minutes long and laughing happens to be another secret productivity hack. In a happier, upbeat and all around more pleasant atmosphere where laughter is encouraged, employees are more likely to interact and brainstorm together. If you’re happier at work, you’re more passionate about work, which fosters a stronger work ethic.
This material is for general informational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the advice, diagnosis or treatment by a physician or other health care professional. Aetna is not the author of this material.