Healthy hacks for your office space

Story highlights

  • People who work at desks should stand or walk around for at least two hours a day to avoid health risks related to too much sitting
  • It's not unusual for office environments to trigger what's known as occupational allergies
  • Bringing nature into your office can be a great way to inspire creativity and a feeling of wellness

You spend about half of your waking hours at your job. While certain jobs like construction or manual labor have clear hazards, you can't assume that if you are clocking time in an office environment that it's a healthy place to be. Many occupations deliver stress, sedentary behavior, and unhealthy habits along with the paycheck, which can take their toll both physically and mentally.

But whether you work from a home office or sit in a corporate cubicle, there are things you can do to make your workplace better for your health and wellbeing. Here's how to give your office space a health makeover, according to the experts.

    Remind yourself to sit less

    People who work at desks should stand or walk around for at least two hours a day to avoid health risks related to too much sitting, according to a 2015 British study. "Moving around throughout your workday is really important," says Robert Graham, MD, director of integrative health and wellness for Northwell Health System, in Great Neck, NY. "Not only is it good for you physically, but studies show that it can increase productivity and more likely to focus on the task at hand."
    Computer programs like Move for iOS or Big Stretch Reminder for Windows can remind you to take breaks at regular intervals; some even provide suggestions for stretches and exercises you can do at your workspace. Can't install software on your work machine? Download an app to your smartphone, or use the free website RegularBreaks.com.

    Clear the air

    It's not unusual for office environments to trigger what's known as occupational allergies—sensitivities to chemicals in carpet, office furniture, or paint, for example, that can trigger problems like headaches and rashes. And even if you don't have physical symptoms, it's possible that stuffy air in your workplace could be hampering your brainpower: In a 2015 Harvard University study, offices with increased ventilation and lower levels of air pollutants were linked to better employee performance.
    You may not be able to change furnishings or ventilation system at your job, but perhaps you can let in some fresh air by keeping windows open while you work. If that's not an option, consider getting an air purifier with a HEPA filter for your desk.

    Try a standing desk

    If your workplace allows it, switching to a standing desk can help you sit less and move more during the day. But being on your feet all day can also lead to aches and pains, so look for a setup that allows you to adjust the height or your work station and use a chair when needed.
    You can even make a DIY standing desk if you don't have the space or resources for a real one; just be sure to keep your computer monitor at eye level, and your arms bent at 90 degrees to reach the keyboard, to avoid neck and arm pain.

    Paint your walls green

    Shades of green have been linked to enhanced creative thinking, says Sally Augustin, PhD, an environmental psychologist and principal at Design With Science. "And most of us have to be creative at work, whether we're coming up with a new advertising slogan or figuring out how to analyze data on a spreadsheet in a different way," she says. To get the most out of your walls, choose a hue that's quiet and calming—like a sage or sea-foam green. "Colors that aren't very saturated but relatively bright put us in the right sort of relaxed mental state to be doing knowledge work."
    Can't paint your space? Wallpapering your cube with a green backdrop or adding green elements to your desk may also be helpful, Augustin says. And whatever you do, she adds, avoid red; it's been shown to negatively affect analytical performance.

    Add a plant

    Bringing nature into your office can be a great way to inspire creativity and a feeling of wellness, says Augustin. "Plants are great from a psychological perspective," she says. "You don't want to pack too many into a small space, but it can be great to have a small plant on your desktop, or something a little larger in the corner of your office."
    Opt for green, leafy plants, rather than cacti—whose spikes can create the opposite of a relaxed feeling—or flowers with a strong scent, which can be distracting or irritating. Some plants, like the sansevieria, may even improve