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Health Guide for Techies

    • Hear that? Those keyboard clicks as you work hour after hour anchored to your computer screen? They mark the seconds and minutes your sedentary job may be taking a toll on your health. Sure, sounds harsh. After all, you sweat at the gym or the company fitness center every morning. But that half-hour of exercise – even that tough boot-camp session – isn’t enough by itself to counteract the negative effects of sitting 8-12 hours every work day.

      No amount of burpies, truck-tire tossing or caffeine jolts can replace a smarter overall approach to how you move, eat and sleep. You need to understand the “blue-light effect,” the concept of NEPA and how to use technology to your well-being.

      Stay calm: You don’t have to quit your office job and join a logging crew. Here’s a guide to help you enhance your health, clear your thinking and enjoy your workday.

    • Stand Up to the Office Chair Bully

    • More than the simple lack of exercise, sitting for extended periods compromises your metabolism, leading to elevated levels of triglycerides – a type of fat – in your bloodstream. Dr. Ronesh Sinha, M.D., an internal medicine specialist at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, says prolonged inactivity leads to the “hibernation effect,” in which your body is tricked into storing calories to conserve body fat, as if you were an animal in hibernation through the winter.

      The hibernation effect also explains why, though you’re barely physically exerting yourself, you feel worn out and sleepy at the end of the day. Tech workers are notorious for their lack of Non-exercise Physical Activity, known as NEPA.

      Dr. Sinha, who works with large employer groups in Silicon Valley, points out that office workers, especially heavy users of computer screens who sit more than 30 minutes at a time (in short, you and almost everybody you know), are at risk of other negative effects to their well-being, too, including:

      • Weakened core muscles
      • Shortened hamstrings
      • Unstable balance
      • Susceptibility to “weekend warrior” injuries
      • Heart and vascular disease
      • Depression
      • Anxiety
      • Trouble sleeping

    • Use Technology to Your Advantage

    • Albert Chan, M.D., of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, leads a clinical informatics team that focuses on the optimization of use of electronic health records and personal health records for patient care delivery and clinical operations. He uses his tech knowledge to help patients and their care providers to become better partners in health.

      Dr. Chan recommends using technology to track how much you’re moving during the day. At first, he says, you’ll be surprised how little you do. But if you set a goal of 10,000 steps a day and use a device such as an Apple Watch or a Fitbit band to monitor your progress, you’ll soon find yourself motivated to take the stairs, park at the far end of the lot, and take more frequent breaks to walk outside. You’ll also find yourself making better dietary choices.

      The payoff? If you take in just 100 calories fewer every day, he says, over the course of a year you can lose up to 12 pounds.

      Other beneficial uses of technology for your health:

      • Add an app to your device that will appear on your screen and prod you every 15-20 minutes to stand and stretch or go outside in the sunlight.
      • Apps like MyFitnessPal can track what you eat so you can be more aware and make better choices.
      • Use your tablet device to engage with your emails while you walk on a treadmill.

    • Exhausted, But Not Sleepy

    • As Dr. Sinha points out, the bottom line of better sleep is that physical tiredness should outweigh psychological stress.

      Your mind’s been toiling all day under the grind of deadlines and other work pressure, but your body’s been inactive. That’s a bad formula for a solid night’s rest. Plus, you’re probably suffering from the “blue-light effect,” a result of too much time looking at a screen – whether it’s your phone, laptop, tablet or desktop monitor.

      During the constant stress of your workday, he says, your body constantly pulses out stress hormones. Think of your adrenal glands, says Dr. Sinha, as battery packs, providing energy-producing substances like adrenaline on demand, a key part of the stress response. When you overuse your limited battery reserves with endless work and personal demands, your batteries are left depleted. Stress hormones make it hard to sleep, and impair the deepest stages of sleep – Stages 3 and 4.

      When you aren’t sleeping very well, mornings can be tough. How about boosting alertness with a strong cup of coffee, or a quick rush from an energy drink? Not a great idea. Excess caffeine accelerates your stress response, which actually worsens fatigue and impairs beneficial sleep.

    • Beating the Blue-Light Effect

    • During your workday, the wavelength of blue light can enhance your attention span, and make you feel more productive. But at night, that same light wavelength can disrupt your sleep. What can you do? This:

      • Digital shutdown: Shut-down electronics 90 minutes to two hours before bedtime. No last-minute email checks, no pre-sleep social media posts or “likes.”
      • Get outside for frequent breaks during daylight hours at work. Natural sunshine is the best way to counter screen time and regulate your body clock.
      • Give yourself a short window of time to read and respond to emails and texts.
      • Browse and interact with social media in short bursts rather than scrolling through for long periods of time.
      • See, Sleep and Screens and our Top 10 Tips for Better Sleep.

    • Do One Thing: Stop Multitasking

    • Juggling several tasks at a time may make you feel like a high-performer, but don’t confuse being busy with being productive. According to Dr. Sinha, when you multitask for more than 20 minutes at a time, the functioning of your prefrontal cortex – the part of your brain that helps you focus your attention on a goal – begins to diminish.

      What to do? Instead of multitasking – doing tasks A, B, C and D at the same time -- try “sequential tasking,” in which you perform and finish task A before moving on to task B, etc. You will actually complete all your tasks more quickly with the sequential method. You will also find yourself getting better at setting priorities and will feel less stressed.

    • Eat Aware, Eat Better

    • Dr. Sinha says better diet and weight management is not about counting calories, it’s about balance. When you balance your intake of proteins, carbs and beneficial fats your diet will be healthier and you will feel better physically and emotionally.

      A good tip from Dr. Chan: Go ahead and fill your plate, but use a smaller plate. You’ll trick your mind and your waistline will benefit.

      The enemy of dietary health? Excessive processed foods, sugar, carbohydrates and unstructured eating. Design your meals the way you would design a work project. Here are some tips:

      • Stick to basics. There are plenty of options for eating healthy. For instance, cut up veggies and bring a bag to work for snacking.
      • Don’t substitute energy bars for real meals. Bars may make you feel full for an hour, but you’ll be hungry again – and likely fill that craving with yet another energy bar.
      • Hydrate. Dr. Chan recommends keeping a container of chilled water near your work station. You’ll do your mind and body good by fending off dehydration, and you’ll be less prone to guzzle coffee or chomp unhealthy snacks.
      • See our articles on mindful eating and weight management strategies for more healthy eating suggestions.

    Ask our experts your health question(s).