We all know we need to eat well, sit less and move more to be healthy. But what happens when our workplace is driving us to do the opposite? Luckily there are some simple tweaks we can make to our day to achieve workplace wellness.
Danielle Teutsch

23 Apr 2019 - 4:52 PM  UPDATED 23 Apr 2019 - 5:13 PM

Eat well

The 3pm slump in the office is all too familiar. That feeling of lethargy drives us to seek out sugar and caffeine in the form of cakes, biscuits, coffee and chocolate, which eventually make us feel worse.

Nutritionist Melanie Olde says the afternoon sugar binge can actually be traced back to having an insufficient breakfast. In other words, what you eat in the morning can set you up for a healthy eating day – or not.

“It’s breakfast that’s often the  main issue, of not having had enough protein and fats,’’ Olde says.

“It can throw out your blood sugar levels and lead to insulin resistance.’’

Drinking several cups of coffee throughout the day to compensate only activates the body’s stress response.

Easy breakfasts that can be made the night before include bircher muesli, chia puddings and frittata. In summer, Olde likes smoothies with added nuts or protein powder.

Good lunches are any form of protein and veg – Olde is not a fan of carb-heavy sandwiches or sushi, which can be high in sugar.

A good, quick lunch could involve bringing some tuna and bags of pre-washed spinach and other salad veg from home and storing in the work fridge. Roast chicken or lamb with vegetables from a food court are also a good option, she says. 

“Most of us are not eating enough vegetables,” she says.

Adults are advised to eat 5-6 serves a day, which only 7 per cent of us manage to do.

Finally, Olde suggests storing a range of good snacks to stave off afternoon fatigue such as fruit, nuts, yoghurt, seaweed crackers, hummus, avocado dip and olives.

“Hydration is very important; you need two litres of water a day,’’ she says.

She advises sticking to one coffee a day and drinking green tea if you need an energy boost later in the afternoon.


Sit less

Almost half of Australian workers spend most of their day sitting at a desk.

Not surprisingly, workers with mostly sitting jobs have a higher overweight/obesity risk than workers with mostly standing or labour jobs.

A solution often touted to the problem of a sedentary work environment is height adjustable, or standing desks.

A recent Australian study found standing desks could save the nation health costs in the long term. Yet other studies have found that sitting down is no worse for you than standing up - as long as you take regular exercise. 

Professor of Physical Activity and Health at the University of Southern Queensland Stuart Biddle said it was important not to exaggerate the benefits of standing desks, but that they were an obvious way to avoid prolonged sitting.

“If you sit for more than eight hours a day you are definitely at a higher risk of mortality,’’ Professor Biddle said.

“If you can reduce your sitting time, that’s going to be a good thing.”

Breaking up the work day with a mix of standing and sitting was also good for the musculoskeletal system, provided some relief for the lower back and improved blood circulation.

And a very important point – workers tended to like it.

“People just feel better for standing a bit during the day,’’ Professor Biddle says.

The Stand@Work study by the Heart Foundation and University of Sydney found a height adjustable desk reduced sitting time and increased standing time by about an hour each work day.


Move more

There are many factors keeping people off their feet and glued to their seats at work, such as a culture of long-winded meetings or a time-pressured environment which doesn’t allow for breaks.

Kylie Bishop, group executive of People and Culture at Medibank, said it is possible to incorporate more movement into your day, without sacrificing productivity.

She is in favour of walking or standing meetings, or even keeping meetings to a minimum.

“People get into the habit of meetings…when actually you could solve [the issue] just with a five minute chat, and do that walking, which leaves you with half an hour in your diary to have lunch instead,’’ she says. 

At Medibank, employees can pick fresh produce from an edible garden and take it in turns to cook and share food with colleagues.

They do regular two-minute mindfulness practices using the Smiling Mind app to focus and calm before meetings. And they use social media platforms to encourage interest groups for activities such as running, cycling and yoga.

Sharing activities with others means “you’ve got more chance of sticking with it,” Bishop says.

She recommends finding what you’re passionate and motivated about, and taking the time to do it – even it if means sticking to a schedule.  

“You have to be very intentional and put it in the diary like a meeting because you know you’ll feel better afterwards,’’ she said.

“If I sit at my desk all day for eight-10 hours straight I know I’m not going to be as productive than if I take some time out, or drop the kids to school - so it’s working out what’s important to you.”

The Heart Foundation suggests ways that office-based workplaces can support a ‘sit less’ and ‘move more’ culture such as having height adjustable meeting tables for standing meetings or standing agenda items; and suggesting routes for walking meetings. There is also software that can prompt you to take a break from your computer. Even small changes such as standing at the back of the room during presentations can reduce sitting time.

Professor Biddle is also a big fan of ditching the lift and taking the stairs at work.

“I’m on the third floor of the university and I never, ever use the lift. I always use the stairs and I do it three to four times a day.”


Through insights, and the use of proactive tools, Medibank continues to look to empower individuals and organisations to take action for better health. To find out more about Medibank’s Corporate health and wellbeing programs, click here.



Eating a varied diet

Dietician Dr Emma Halmos explains how following a Mediterranean diet is one key to good gut health in the Better Guts episode of Dr Michael Mosley's Reset, which you can stream now on SBS On Demand. This program was created in partnership with Medibank, editorially produced independently by SBS.