As with most things in the UK around working hours and conditions there is legislation that dictates the amount of hours worked in relation to the time allocated and legally allowed for a break. I would suggest that most companies are not only aware of this, but also follow the legislation, explaining to employees the amount of time they are entitled to for a break and in some situations, such as restaurants, and other service institutions, when that break can be taken. On the other hand there are jobs such as couriers who are paid by the number of deliveries and not by the hour who probably focus more on earning capacity, rather than taking a break to eat something. Despite all the legislation, lunch breaks are being swallowed up as we resign to eating lunch at our desk, opting to earn more, or to go home early. Not exactly “al fresco”, but “al desko” dining, or quickly popping out for a take-away of some kind, which is eaten on the hoof before returning to the desk.
Is the lack of respect for the lunch break self-imposed or a reflection of the ever-increasing pressure and changing work culture? Does the employee feel comfortable in taking a full lunch break, or is there an unspoken rule that this is not acceptable and therefore, frowned upon?
What are the benefits of taking time for lunch?
There are the obvious benefits of getting away from the desk to stretch a little, exercise, get out into some fresh air, and if going with someone, talk about something else, socialise and unwind. Furthermore, from a digestion point of view, focusing on what we eat helps to begin the process of digestion, therefore starting natural salivation in the mouth in readiness for the arrival of food, which in turn stimulates the release of stomach acid. Proper digestion, means avoiding that uncomfortable feeling of bloating and heaviness associated with indigestion or having that “sugar high” and then a major energy slump an hour later.
Mental and Physical Performance
Proper digestion is connected directly to physical and mental wellbeing. Ensuring the body is able to absorb nutrients, vitamins and minerals needed for work performance, needs time to begin the process of digestion. Working through a break, or eating at the desk, when a regular practice, is false economy because the digestive system is compromised, thus affecting nutrient absorption that ultimately takes its toll on performance with the inevitable slump in energy. Whereas taking time to leave the desk to “switch off” and enjoy what you are eating, helps in creating the right environment for digestion as well as alleviating work pressures and stress, thus leading to enhanced performance.
Mental performance is also lowered due to increased screen time. Our mental performance is directly linked to the ability to make decisions. It is the pre-frontal cortex that is involved in making decisions and in executive function. This connects to other brain networks in order to regulate behaviour, mood, thought and emotion. The pre-frontal cortex is highly susceptible to stress, which when overloaded can result in poor decision-making, inability to focus effectively and over time lead to tension headaches, mood swings and depression.
Better Weight Management
It is common knowledge that weight management is important. Overweight means we put stress on our body functions and all the organs in the body. Besides this obvious point, being overweight you often feel uncomfortable and lack energy, as well as self-confidence. Taking time to eat slowly and mindfully and getting some movement or exercise during a break are both important to managing weight. The World Health Organisation has identified physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor in global mortality. Being overweight and leading a sedentary lifestyle can lead to such diseases as hypertension, diabetes and coronary heart disease. Lack of movement through sedentary behaviour lowers energy required to perform well. “Moreover, physical inactivity is estimated to be the main cause for approximately 21–25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes and approximately 30% of the ischemic heart disease burden.” (World Health Organisation)
Tips for Improving Digestion
- Eat when relaxed. Avoid eating when stressed as energy is diverted and digestion is compromised.
- Be mindful about what you are going to eat, stimulating saliva and gastric juices prior to putting food in your mouth.
- Sit comfortably, and upright when eating, avoiding slumping as this means food cannot travel easily to the stomach and intestines.
- Be relaxed and breathe, thus relaxing the brain and helping the body to switch on the digestive process.
- Eat slowly so as not to dump large chunks of food into the digestive tract. Well-chewed food is more easily broken down and nutrients absorbed to provide not only the feeling of satiety, but also the energy needed to continue with your day.
- The body needs time to register when it is full, therefore avoid eating quickly to allow the system time to register and feel satiated.
- Enjoy the process of eating, take time to notice the smells, flavours and textures of your food.
- Eat until you feel comfortable. Avoid overeating as this stresses the digestive system, and leaves you feeling tired with the inevitable afternoon slump in energy.
- Try to get at least 15 minutes exercise during your break especially if you have a sedentary job as movement helps to oxygenate the blood, increase blood flow to the brain, and alleviates any feelings of being stressed.
- Preferably walk or exercise outside as fresh air boosts the levels of oxygen in the blood, and through exposure to the sun also helps the body to create vitamin D needed for many functions in the body, including mood regulation.
With the increase in mental ill health in the workplace, encouraging employees to go out for lunch is a one step towards helping decrease stress and increase work performance through greater focus and attention, increased energy and a positive, constructive mood.
Optimum Nutrition www.ion.ac.uk
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