10 Ways to Make Your Workplace Healthier and More Productive

desk exercisesFor the most part, we all got into this Primal stuff to improve our own health and that of those close to us. Maybe we’re hoping to avoid the diabetes and heart disease that got our loved ones. Maybe we’re trying to lose a few pounds. Maybe we want to know what it’s like to walk ten miles without getting out of breath or having to coax our creaky joints out of their torpor. Whatever the motivation, we’re in this to make ourselves healthier and happier.

That’s how it starts. Once you reach your goals or even just begin to make headway, you notice everyone around you, especially the ones with visible health issues. It’s not that you’re looking down at them or that you’re superior in some way. You feel lucky enough to be privy to a secret is all, and you’d like to share what you know with the people around you – even strangers – who appear to be hurting unnecessarily. And your co-workers are no exception. Ah, co-workers. Many of us see these people more than our own spouses or children. We essentially live with them for eight hours a day. We learn their foibles, their habits, their quirks. In the best workplaces, our coworkers become a kind of family to us, and what do we do with family?

We care about them, especially their health.

The quickest way to get someone to stop listening and brand you forever as “that health nut guy” is to blather on and on about your diet, your exercise, your new healthy lifestyle that seems diametrically opposed to whatever they’re doing. Because when you do that, you’re telling them that they’re unhealthy, that they’re doing it all wrong. Even if you don’t explicitly criticize or question what they’re eating or “doing in the gym,” by talking up the stuff you’re doing (and discussing how bad wheat or vegetable oils are), you’re indirectly criticizing them. Or at least that’s how it might be taken.

So what are some unobtrusive ways to encourage healthy workplace practices? What might be done on the small-scale, individual, micro level? What might be done on a larger, office-wise scale? Let’s explore ten, simple (and not so simple), basic (and more complex), and effective ways to get your workplace healthier.

Walking meetings.

Ah, the mid-afternoon meeting. Is there a drearier human social activity? We’ve all fiddled with our smartphones through enough boring, pointless, useless meetings to last us a lifetime, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can walk and talk (and chew Stevia-sweetened gum) at the same time, can’t you? So why not try it? You’ll get your 10,000 steps for the day, along with your colleagues, you’ll get fresh air, you’ll get sun (hopefully), you’ll get a change in the group dynamic that might spur creative thinking, and if the ancient tales are true, you’ll be in good company: Aristotle was said to conduct his teachings as he walked the halls of the Lyceum in Athens.

Unless you’re the boss, I don’t expect you to instate walking meetings across the entire office and discard all standard sit-down meetings. That’s not realistic. But next time you have an informal meeting with another coworker or two, suggest you go for a walk outside (or even through the confines of the building and down hallways, Aaron Sorkin-style). It might catch on.

Why your boss should care: There’s reason to believe that walking meetings may be more productive that sit-down meetings, since walking has been shown to boost brain connectivity and function. Better functioning brains with better neural connectivity come up with better ideas.

Standing workstations.

Sitting all day is terrible for your health, it hampers your ability to oxidize the fat you just ate, increases the risk of obesity and diabetes, and it’s an evolutionarily novel environmental factor with drastic consequences. Forget the health aspects of it and focus on the qualitative, subjective effects, even. Whenever I’m forced to spend all day sitting down, I can actually feel my zest for life being snubbed away. I feel like a slug. When I do get up and move around after having sat for a long time, I’m slower. My joints are achier, my muscles less responsive. It’s just awful. I can’t imagine trying to work with that frame of mind and body.

Lobby for a standing workstation, or build a makeshift one. They’re getting more and more popular, so your office may already have a few pioneers. At any rate, start a trend and others will soon follow. You may be that weird guy who stands for awhile, but that’s okay. One or two curious and brave souls will inevitably join your ranks.

Why your boss should care: Since sitting kills, quite literally, and a dead workforce is an unproductive workforce, standing workstations may improve productivity (and increase liveliness). If the boss is concerned about standing affecting the quality of work, one study found that standing (or walking) workstations improved metabolic processes without hampering the quality of the work.

Plants in the office.

My post a while back on why working outside (at least some of the time) is ideal if you can make it work got a lot of responses. Problem is, most people can’t make that work. Not yet, at least. But some of the benefits of being outdoors come from being close to plants, trees, and other green things. Save for most trees and a select variety of plant life scheduled by the DEA, we can bring plants into the office, where they can improve the quality of the air and make workers more productive. Even if you don’t buy into the physiological underpinnings of why plants are good to be around, almost anyone would agree that plants are just nice to look at. A bare room is awful, but stick a big green plant in the corner, and you’ve suddenly changed the vibe of the room to be more positive and welcoming. That counts for something, doesn’t it?

Start small. Adorn your cubicle/office/desk with various plants. Maybe buy a few extra to give as gifts to each “area” of the office. Hook your boss up with a fern or something. Just get people exposed to plants and the rest will follow. And if it doesn’t, at least you’re reaping the benefits.

Why your boss should care: Research shows that plants in the office can improve productivity, increase concentration, and make workers happier and less stressed. This effect is greatest among workers who spend more than four hours a day in front of a computer (sound familiar to anyone?).

Start a (healthy) breakfast club.

Okay, I get it. Fried rings of sugary dough dipped in even more sugar covered with sugary glazes satisfy (or at least trigger) some deep-seated primal desires for salt, sugar, fat, and crispiness, but they aren’t Primal. And yet they enjoy persistent popularity as a breakfast item. What about muffins? At least everyone knows donuts are health disasters, but the muffin has somehow retained the reputation for being a healthy breakfast food. Meanwhile, they’re cupcakes without the frosting and they seem to be getting bigger and bigger every time I see one (c’mon, who needs a pound of muffin?).

If you were to start a healthy breakfast club (double points if you have the classic movie running in the background), where people bring in food to share with the office that isn’t cake-related, you’d have an easy avenue to show off what’s truly possible when you eat Primal. Think hardboiled eggs. Think reams of bacon. Think actual fresh fruit. Think Primal pancakes. Think sweet potato hash (with more bacon and more eggs). Nominate yourself to be one of the first to bring breakfast and set the tone.

Why your boss should care: Donuts and muffins elicit massive spikes in blood sugar, followed by a subsequent drop-off, while protein-and-fat-rich breakfasts result in steadier levels of blood sugar. Why does this matter? Steady blood sugar levels improve cognitive function.

Sponsored gym memberships.

Lots of employers are doing this nowadays, and it’s a great thing. Gym memberships are seen as a luxury item for many household budgets, particularly in these difficult times, so an employer who includes a gym membership among the other benefits afforded to their employees is a great one.

If your boss won’t sponsor you for the gym, consider assembling a group of willing and able coworkers to head on down to the gym and angle for a group rate. Once the higher-ups notice that there’s a demand (and the tax breaks outlined below won’t hurt), they may change their minds. And if they don’t, at least you just got yourself a bunch of gym buddies.

Why your boss should care: What you might lose in gym fees (which you’ll get a great package deal on, no doubt), you’ll gain in savings on health care costs. Stronger, healthier, fitter employees are happier, more productive employees who are less liable to use sick days. Plus, you’ll kill the other office in the annual softball game. Oh, and you can probably even get some tax write-offs while you’re at it.

Integrated exercise equipment in the office.

I’m a big fan of peppering my day with activity. Dedicated extended workouts are great and all, but I think working exercise into the flow of your normal day is more sustainable for the average person – and it more closely approximates how our ancestors would have “exercised.” The problem is that most of us get our exercise in gyms. We have to suit up, get in our cars, drive to the gym, file inside, and wait our turns for whatever machine or weight we need to use. Some people have home gyms, but not most. What if you could have a “work gym”? What if there was a pullup bar leading in to the break room, a climbing rope hanging from the rafters, gymnastics rings attached to the overhead beam near the bathrooms? How awesome would that be? How many pullups do you think you’d be able to do after a year of doing them every time you went to fill your water bottle?

Start with a pullup bar in a doorframe somewhere. As long as you don’t damage the building, your boss should be receptive to it. Then, expand from there.

Why your boss should care: Intermittent bouts of exercise will keep workers alert, productive, and engaged. They won’t be “going to failure,” after all, but rather hitting a few reps here and there. Plus, healthy workers get sick less often and use less health care.

Fitness challenges.

Competition breeds progress. Wanting to beat the other guy or girl can make the prospect of working out regularly seem doable or even pleasurable, even in the normally sedentary. Having others with whom to share your pain (or triumph) makes the task more bearable.

Suggest some fitness challenges to your workmates. Stuff like “first to 100 pushups” (or 50) or “first to 15 pullups” (or 5) or “first to deadlift twice your bodyweight” (or just bodyweight) are simple and easy to keep track of and prizes for the winner may heat things up. The challenges don’t even have to really be competitive, either. You can all pledge to “hike for six miles” or “take a walk every night” or “do fifty pushups a day.” They can be common goals you all rally around, where the prize is simply completing the goal.

Why your boss should care: Whenever you get people together in an enclosed space, rivalries and politics and pettiness will arise. By channeling all that energy into fitness-related competition, you can avoid the office politics that are the downfall of many a workplace.

Start a walking club.

I’d never heard of this before a wife of one the Worker Bees told me about her workplace’s walking club. Basically, this is how it works. The floor is split up into groups of four people. Each person is given a basic pedometer, paid for by the company, and the groups keep track of their daily steps. Each week or two, the groups add up their steps and whichever one gets the most wins a prize. It’s pretty simple, but it gets the people walking a lot. They keep track of steps taken on weekends, too, so people are motivated to be more active away from work.

Start with a mini club – just a few people, perhaps – and expand from there. Since standard pedometers are pretty cheap, you can even buy the first round for your club. It’s a few bucks out of your pocket, but you’ll have triggered a monumental (yet simple) change in people’s lives.

Why your boss should care: As mentioned above, walking improves cognitive function. Healthy, well-functioning brains do better work, which increases productivity. Plus, if your employees are consistently hitting 10,000 steps a day, they’re going to be healthier.

Office naps.

The midday siesta is a cherished tradition in many a nation, but not because people are lazy good for nothings. The nap is just good policy. For one, it’s a bite-sized piece of sleep, a kind of sleep snack, and sleep is as physiologically vital as food and water. We need it to be healthy, but we don’t get enough, and naps can help us chip away at accrued sleep debt. Second, naps are proven to increase alertness. Naps are also superior to (but less delicious than) coffee when it comes to the “purity” of said alertness.

I wouldn’t recommend sprawling out underneath your desk willy-nilly. If you’d like to incite a napping revolution, you need to start small and inconspicuous. Don’t assume people will immediately understand (“Oh, George is just fortifying his relational memory!”), as napping still carries negative connotations. Take a short power nap after lunch – cut your lunch a bit short if you have to – and urge your receptive coworkers to do the same. Then, consider approaching the boss with your suggestions.

Why your boss should care: Tired employees are less effective employees who produce subpar work. And long naps that take up valuable work time aren’t necessary, or even necessarily beneficial; one study found that a 10-minute power nap was the most recuperative compared to 20- and 30-minute naps.

Lead by quiet example.

People like leaders. They like inconspicuous leaders even more, the people who lead by example rather than by decree. Because none of us are experts in everything, we need people to look up to for  motivation, for instruction. If you’re just a healthy person who’s never really stressed out about your workouts, who doesn’t fear animal fat or meat, who’s happy with her Big Ass Salad at lunch, who doesn’t seem to need to mainline coffee throughout the day to stay awake, there’s a strong chance you’ll be one of those inconspicuous leaders without even trying. People will take note of how you do it and start to question themselves – and their lack of progress. They may even come to you with questions. Don’t lecture, don’t be pushy. Just answer and help and guide as needed (and when asked).

Why your boss should care: I don’t think this one’s really applicable, is it?

That’s what I’ve got, folks. What about you? How would you enact some healthy changes in your workplace? How have you already? Let us know in the comment section!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!