Hard at work? Revising for exams? Feel great at your desk!


15832996_sEver seen that ‘Evolution of Man’ parody where an ape becomes human, walks erect, then sits down at a computer? Well, for some it’s too close to the truth to be funny! At Back in Shape, though, we know that we can do some easy things to ‘feel great at our desks’!

Pay attention: here comes the science bit… As you read this, you might become curious to learn how, in much the same way your body works to ‘the circadian rhythm’ – the 24 hour ‘cycle’ that makes you sleepy at night, then wakes you up in the day – our brains are also slave to a second rhythm… The Ultradian Rhythm!

Ultradian Rhythm? Oh, yes! While the circadian rhythm plays out over a 24 hour period, ‘ultradians’ re-occur throughout the day. They allow the different hemispheres of your brain to dominate in turn: first, the left side gets between an hour and an hour and a half to deal with logical matters, communication and linear thought…

Then, for 15 – 20 minute bursts, the right side takes over, and handles creativity, relaxation, dreaming and trance states. Consequently, every couple of hours your brain actually needs you to day-dream! That’s why, every few hours, concentration is harder and you feel compelled to stop what you’re doing and take a break, very often tuning out or drifting off.

The power of the brain compels you! Indeed and, bless our little brains, they’re compelling us to relax – not have a cigarette, a coffee, a tea or a chat! Interestingly, in some forward thinking businesses where regular 20-minute breaks are encouraged, productivity increases while sick rates go down… Which takes us to the first major tip of this sheet: as much as is humanly possible, relax when your brain tells you to take a break. That can mean just closing your eyes and letting your mind wander, breathing deeply for few minutes or even taking a nap at lunch.

On the other hand… Is your body’s need to keep active! Our physiology didn’t evolve with the idea of having us sit down at a computer for hours at a time! So there’s something to be said for getting up and moving about when you have an opportunity. Those working in larger buildings and finding themselves in need of a loo break can, for example, walk beyond the nearest restroom – whether the next one is on a floor up, down or just around the corner, the extra paces can all help! Alternatively, plan to take a brisk walk around the building at lunchtime: even a little exercise is better than none at all.

Time for tea, Father… Alas, alack! It gives us no pleasure to report that most teas and coffees, many types of cola and some energy drinks stimulate an adrenal response. In other words, they make your body produce adrenaline. Now, you may well know that adrenaline is what your body produces when it feels short-term stress is present, such as when you’re in danger or feel threatened…

Go on… So adrenaline, secreted in the blood stream, puts you on ‘red alert’! If your body is kept on constant red alert – through a great many coffees and teas a day, for example – the adrenal gland also begins to produce cortisol, which, as a long-term stress chemical, increases blood sugar and suppresses your immune responses. In short, stress makes us ill – and excessive caffeine intake causes the body stress!

Bright lights, big city! You may not know that looking at bright light for a long period of time can also put a strain on our poor old bodies and noggins! It not only contributes to fatigue, but also escalates stress levels… And if you’re reading this on a screen, you can probably guess where many people get more than their fair share of bright-light exposure from! So even if you can’t take a break from work, switch to working on non-screen-based stuff for at least 10 minutes every hour.

S – T – R – E – T – C – H ! If you’re sat down somewhere safe now and want to try this, go ahead! In a slow and deliberate shrug, raise your shoulders up as breathing in for about seven seconds, then gently push them back, and lower them with a rolling action as you breathe out for a count of eleven. Do this a total of five times and notice the loosening up this creates in the shoulders and neck with each one allowing you to relax more!

This stinks! Easily fatigued though it is, the sense of smell is a terrific quick fix for work! A number of odours are renowned for their effect, including lavender, sandalwood, and chamomile oil… And that’s just the beginning! If you have a favourite relaxing smell that you can capture or approximate and store for when you need it, be creative. A leather wallet, a sponge microphone and a block of recently sawn pine have all been used to help people relax “down our way”!

Straighten up and fly right: If you work at a desktop computer, make sure your keyboard, screen and chair are set up right. This month, we’ve spent no expense to provide this illustration that shows how you might sit in a way that improves posture and simultaneously reduces eyestrain, back strain, the chances of repetitive strain injuries and poor circulation!

postureShoulders relaxed
Elbows and hips bent at 90 degrees or so…
…and thighs parallel to ground
Chair supporting lower back
Carefree smile
Screen 18 – 24″ away
Top of screen level with eyes…
…bits of paper, too!
Back in Shape website
Keyboard level with elbows
Keep feet flat!
Comfortable shoes

Have another look at Harold, too, by clicking here.

Eateateat: It’s a nine letter word used by some grandmothers and it means, roughly translated, ‘have this mountain of food’! But one of the best ways to feel great at your desk is to make sure your blood-sugar levels stay in balance throughout the day – starting with breakfast. There’s an awful lot of evidence that suggests long & short-term memory, concentration and physical endurance are all adversely affected by skipping that first meal.

Little by little: On a similar note, it’s important to keep meals regular so your body doesn’t ‘stress’ at the idea that there’s no food. When food isn’t consumed, our blood-sugar levels drop too low and that, very often, is when we think how yummy a choccy bar, packet of biscuits or some other snack might be! Trouble is, the sweet food we crave is absorbed more quickly by the body and we end up with a sugar high! This ‘peaking and troughing’ affects our ability to perform throughout the day.

It’s a metaphor! Our bodies are like cars in as much as that they need fuel, and they need the right amount of fuel. By that, we mean you don’t knowingly put less petrol in your tank and run the risk of running out, nor do you fill up the back seat with cans and cans of spare fuel just in case. Your body’s the same. Too little food and you become underweight; too much and you get overweight! And, generally speaking, there is a very reliable way of telling what the right amount of food is for you…

Satiety! Satiety! No escaping that for me! Knowing when to stop eating is actually very simple: when you’ve eaten enough, your stomach sends a message to your brain telling you you’ve had enough. It’s called satiety, and it’s a contented feeling we often ignore right before we order dessert! To perform at your best, tune into your body when you eat: concentrate on eating – and stop when that signal says you should.

Leaded or unleaded: Okay, so the fuel we take in has a natural cut-off signal to which we can learn to pay attention. So that leaves the question: what is the right type of fuel for our bodies? Well, generally speaking, the less processed the food is, the slower it breaks down and gets into our systems – and the better it is for us because it helps us avoid those peaks and troughs we mentioned…

Eating the right amount of high-carbohydrate foods, such as rye, oatcakes, pitta bread, tortilla wraps, porridge, noodles, pasta, basmati rice, no-sugar muesli and sweet potatoes will most likely do you the power of good. Alongside them, protein foods including fish, eggs, milk, yoghurt, meat, lentils and other pulses, tofu or Quorn will help slow your digestion, too, keeping those pesky spikes at bay.

And we didn’t mention fruit: Rats! Fell at the last hurdle there. Ah well. You know, if an apple a day keeps the doctor away, eating one every eight hours should ward them off three at a time! It’s worth a try… Fresh fruits and vegetables are among the least processed and healthiest foods available! Snacking on fruit and small quantities of nuts during the day fills your stomach in a far better way than those sugary snacks. Try it for a fortnight and see how much better you feel!


Back in Shape cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of any action or inaction based on its Newsletter or Info Sheets. In particular, of course, those with special dietary requirements such as diabetics should be hugely cautious in relation to information regarding sweet foods such as honey! If you have any doubts or concerns over medical and health issues, our best advice is always to pop in to see us, visit your GP or call NHS Direct on 111 to discuss your health