Can You Boost Your Health In Your Lunch Hour?
Our writer tries to find out whether one hour a day is enough to help reset her physical and mental wellbeing.
If your first response to the question above is “what lunch hour?”, I understand. Normally, I decide I’m too busy for an hour-long break from my office job, and sit with one hand on the keyboard, wolfing down a salad while answering emails and website-hopping.
If I go out, I’m hooked to my iPhone, checking emails every three minutes as I dash to buy a sandwich.
It’s certainly not great for my stress levels, but I’m not alone – only 17% of workers take an hour off at lunch. So I’ve decided to take my full lunch break every day for a week, and use it productively, with activities to boost my health and happiness.
Screen time is rewiring our brains, and smartphones can have a negative impact on self-esteem and stress levels.
I’ve noticed my concentration levels suffer recently, and often find myself mindlessly scrolling through social media, spending up to two hours a day on my phone, according to the tracking app Moment.
While a full digital detox feels impossible, today I decide to give myself an hour off and leave my iPhone behind as I head out to lunch. I settle down in a nearby coffee shop with my paperback and a sandwich, and spend a full hour reading.
For a few minutes, my mind frets over missing an emergency email or call. But, after a while I settle down, and feel amazingly refreshed and focused when I head back to my desk after a screen-free break.
I’ve always worried that lunchtime exercise would feel too rushed, and wonder whether you can have a meaningful workout in that short space of time.
I found out the answer by trying out Virgin Active’s Grid Fit class in my lunch break. I was on edge beforehand, worried my pre-lunch meeting would overrun, but left the office at 12.50pm in time for the 1pm class, and amazingly was back again by 1.50pm, having slogged my guts out during the 30-minute aerobic conditioning class.
The good thing about a short class is you don’t bother keeping any energy in reserve - when the choice came of how high to box-jump, or which weight to use during kettlebell swings, I went for the maximum because of the decreased timeframe.
While I didn’t as look as polished as I’d normally like when I returned to my desk, I definitely felt the endorphin boost of a good workout, and didn’t experience my usual post-lunch slump.
After going for the fast and furious exercise option yesterday, today I get into the flow with a dynamic yoga session.
After working from home since the crack of dawn, dealing with a stressful email chain, my body has basically merged into the sofa cushions, so it’s difficult, but definitely necessary, to peel myself off and head to FLY LDN for Flow Life 45: a lunchtime yoga session that lasts for 45 minutes and is intended to “focus your mind away from the City hustle” (or sofa hustle, in my case).
The effects of my anxious morning hunched over a laptop are immediately clear - my entire body creaks and clicks as we work through the first sun salutation. However, by the end of the session I’m so relaxed I actually fall asleep for a minute during the shavasana, and I leave feeling zen-like and de-stressed.
All afternoon I have a laser focus, ticking tasks off my to-do list with none of my normal procrastinating. I’m starting to feel like an hour spent away from my desk at lunchtime is more than redeems itself in the form of time not wasted during the afternoon.
I’m super busy today, and by midday it’s obvious that an hour-long lunch break is out of the question.
I consider having a day off and simply grabbing a sandwich at my desk, but instead decide to download Buddhify, a meditation and mindfulness app to use on the go.
It’s a six minute stroll to the nearest Pret, so I select one of the ‘Walking’ meditations of the same length, plug myself in and go. In the past, I have always struggled to meditate - sitting in my silent bedroom at home causes my brain to scatter more, if anything. However, meditating on the move works amazingly well, as a soothing voice tells me to focus intermittently between my footsteps and the city noises around me.
In fact, I love it so much that after buying my lunch I select another six-minute meditation on the way back. Considering my entire lunch break is only 20 minutes, I feel refreshed after my outing, and more than convinced that Buddhify is worth the £4.99 I paid for it.
Working in London, I’m extremely lucky to have hundreds of free museums and galleries on my doorstep, but I rarely visit them, despite evidence that looking at art improves motor skills and creativity.
Today I head to the Wallace Collection, a 15-minute walk from my office. It feels a strange activity for my lunch break, but I’m keen to see the effect this will have on my day, particularly as someone who is not very au fait with art.
While the prospect of hours in a gallery would fill me with dread, having only half an hour really focuses my attention. The atmosphere inside the collection is a world away from the bustle outside; in here it’s quiet and calm.
As I walk around the gallery, I can almost feel my heart rate slowing down. Although by no means an arty type, it’s incredibly soothing to spend half an hour redirecting my attention away from my inbox or to-do list, and seeing hundreds of years’ worth of art puts a stressful meeting or annoying email into perspective.
Shifting my brain away from work seems to benefit me when I return, as I sit down at my desk ready to take on tasks with renewed enthusiasm.
Did it work?
I’ve noticed the same pattern every day during my experiment: at first, I’m tempted to bail and eat lunch at my desk, but after doing the day’s activity, I feel much better, as well as more focused.
While going to a gallery every day is probably not realistic, there are definitely a few changes I’ll be making, from exercising in my lunch hour, to taking half an hour out with a book or a walking meditation.
It turns out that, rather than wasting time, spending an hour focusing on my own wellbeing makes me a better employee – plus, there are a lot fewer crumbs on my keyboard.
Words by Sophie Hines