Watching an episode of Friends, breaking the Guinness World Record for holding your breath, completing seven rounds of men’s professional boxing – what do they have in common? They all last the same amount of time as your lunch-break.
A ukactive survey of more than 800 employees found that the average UK lunch-break has dropped to just 22 minutes.
The survey, conducted with hospitality company Sodexo, showed an 11-minute fall since 2012, with one in five workers not even leaving their desk during the break.
This is in spite of evidence in 2011 from the University of Illinois1 showing that taking a break from a tasked actually improved focus on it. That means that if you take a break from the never-ending carousel of spreadsheets to enjoy your full hour break, you’d actually be more productive when you came back.
Steven Ward, chief executive of ukactive, said: “These figures are a shocking indictment of modern workplace cultures, where employees increasingly find themselves tied to their desks and screens all day.
“Our research shows that staff believe in the benefits of being more physically active but don’t feel they have the time – employers should heed these warnings if they want to encourage their teams to be more productive.”
Get Britain Standing is campaigning to ‘increase awareness and education of the dangers of sedentary working and prolonged sitting time’. It encourages regular minor movement at work to keep our bodies fit and healthy – as well as making us more productive.
And it has a point. A study2 looking at self-monitored productivity in the office with and without exercising that day showed that, on days where participants did some exercising during work hours, their concentration improved by 21%. More than that, the report also showed a 41% increase in being motivated for work, as well as a 27% increase in dealing with stressful situations better and in a calm manner.
There is so much potential in an hour, so much room for activities, why not use it properly?
Dietitian, Linia Patel, says: “Eating at your desk has been shown to lead to an increased calorie consumption because you are more likely to graze through the day. Studies have also shown that employees who regularly take breaks during the workday are likely to be more productive.
“Physical exercise, even if just a leisurely stroll around the block, reduces stress and appears to have a restorative effect on your brain. And you don’t have to be outside to reap the productivity benefits of a lunchtime stroll, as research demonstrates that even walking around indoors can boost creativity in some by 60%. Being outside enjoying nature comes with additional brain benefits though. Green spaces like parks have been shown to have a calming effect on our mental activity, reducing stress and fatigue. If you really can’t get out the office, then invest in a desk plant. One study showed that enriching an office with plants could increase productivity by 15%.”
Linia suggests a healthy lunch too, to boost your energy and productivity. Meals high in lean protein, wholegrain carbohydrates, vegetables and some healthy fats will set you up with the right tools to not have that afternoon lull that follows a sausage roll at your desk.
Try salmon, quinoa salad and a mixed greens; or chicken, brown rice and veggie hotpot. If you want a vegetarian option, try lentils and vegetable soup with a wholegrain roll – perfect for the winter.
The issue is a pattern that too many people are guilty of. It comes down to a need to please, to do your job as best you can, but you have to ask yourself, is it really helping?
Darren Orton, office manager here at FitPro, says: “It’s too easy to fall into the trap of this growing workplace culture. FitPro encourages a healthy work/life balance – we say break the habit: stretch your legs, clear your head, take some exercise and fill your lungs with fresh air. You’ll feel great and be ready to tackle the next important deadline.”
So, it’s time to take your full hour. Get active during your lunch-break and reap the physical, emotional and productive rewards that come with it.
1 – https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/205427
2 – Coulson, J.C., McKenna, J., Field, M. (2008) Exercising at work and self‐reported work performance, International Journal of Workplace Health Management, 1(3):176-197, https://doi.org/10.1108/17538350810926534