Work stress, well-being, and weight seem to dominate the headlines, and also the headspace of most women these days. And rightly so! As more and more women take on demanding jobs, the conversation on health and well-being—what it constitutes and the factors that affect it—has become very important. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. As a doctor, I couldn’t agree more! Health lies beyond just being disease-free and involves a positive state of mind that is an outcome of physical, mental and social well-being.
Working women have to work particularly hard at prioritising their own well-being and often experience high levels of stress, owing to the responsibilities of work and home. Over time this stress can lead to a lot of physical and mental illnesses. It’s no surprise, therefore, that many organisations today offer wellness programmes specifically focused on women’s health.
But to truly achieve physical and mental wellness, it’s first important to examine the relationship between obesity, job stress, eating behaviours, and chronic diseases. Very often, weight gain and obesity are not just a result of individuals’ personal choices. Most women today are working long hours. The stress levels are also higher than ever before with increased performance pressures and a culture that propagates constant connectivity. This combination of long work hours and a sedentary, high-stress lifestyle is one of the biggest causes of weight gain and the diseases that come along with it.
In fact, we find that stress levels at the workplace even influence eating behaviours and are associated with an increased intake of fatty foods, ultimately leading to obesity. This is in turn is linked to hormonal changes and increased prevalence of chronic inflammatory diseases like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Modern women living and working in a fast-paced environment often find themselves in a vicious cycle of stress, sedentary lifestyle and weight gain which can be difficult to break out of.
Since demands on one’s time and energy will only increase as one climbs the corporate ladder, it’s important to take this conversation beyond just finding ‘balance’, to real meaningful actions that can help women in their pursuit of health. Here are some simple ways women can maintain their health and wellbeing at work:
- Be organised and prioritise your tasks for each day. Doing so helps you keep track of what you want to achieve and helps prevent the build-up of stress.
- Sitting is the new smoking. Find ways to be active during the day—take walking or standing meetings or sneak in some quick desk exercises every few hours.
- Exercise. Apart from increasing your level of physical activity during the day, take time to include at least 30 minutes of workout in your schedule. Many of the health issues faced by women like mood swings triggered by hormonal changes, bone loss, osteoporosis, etc. can be substantially improved with consistent exercise.
- Eat healthy food. What we eat not only impacts our body but is also connected to how positive and energetic we feel. Avoid processed/high-sugar foods and include more green vegetables and fresh fruits in your diet.
- Make sure you’re getting the right nutrition for your needs. Nutritional needs for women are slightly different from their male counterparts and also differ depending on age and life cycle: menstruation, pregnancy/lactation, and menopause. Iron is an important nutrient, especially for young menstruating women. Lean meats, fish, legumes, beans, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale and nuts are good sources of dietary iron. Always ensure that you have a vitamin C source while eating vegetarian sources of iron for better absorption, for e.g. a squeeze of lemon or orange or some bell peppers.
- Take help from phytoestrogens to achieve well-being. Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring estrogen-like substances that have protective effects on women’s cardiac health, cancers and also help with reducing menopausal symptoms. Foods like whole grains, including cracked wheat and barley, flaxseed (linseed), sesame seeds, nuts, legumes (especially soya and chickpeas), alfalfa sprouts and extra virgin olive oil are rich in phytoestrogen.
- Make time for yourself and hobbies/activities that make you happy. Try to follow the 8-8-8 principle: 8 hours for work, 8 for sleep and 8 for yourself.
- Foster meaningful friendships at work. Feeling supported and appreciated at work not only helps reduce stress and anxiety but is also known to boost productivity.
Ultimately, it’s also important to remember that we are the custodians of our own physical and mental well-being, and that it needs as much as time and attention as other areas of life. Achieving well-being enables us to discover the depths of our own potential, deal with life’s challenges and contribute positively to every aspect of life.