Five Ways to Improve your Work Space this Year

By Savannah Freemantle

It’s the New Year and you’re back at your desk after your break.   Since you spend eight hours or more at work per day, perhaps more time than you spend with your family – here’s some simple ways to make this a happier, healthier stress resistant zone


There have been numerous studies conducted which indicate that when plants are present in the workplace, there is a substantial improvement in employee wellness, both physically and psychologically. Here are a few scientifically recognised benefits of having plants in the office:


Plants have been proven to reduce absenteeism by up to 50%, and minor illness by up to 30%. This is probably due to improved air quality. By introducing a ratio of three people to every one plant, air quality is significantly improved and dust is reduced by up to 50%. This dust includes the bacteria and mould particles present in an office that, when inhaled, cause employees to fall ill. There are also many man-made toxins within an office environment, created by plastics, paint, furniture, carpets and certain cleaning products, that are reduced significantly by plants.


Plants actually reduce noise in the work environment by five decibels, allowing employees the opportunity to better concentrate on the task at hand.


In a study conducted in 2010, a significant reduction in stress levels was recorded where plants were present in the office environment.


Cognitive tasks such as concentration have been shown to improve in a greener environment due to a plant’s ability to decrease excess levels of C02. Throughout the studies conducted, it has been found that when plants are present, fewer mistakes are made, tasks are completed faster and, in the case of computer workers, productivity increases by between 10% and 15%.










When we personalise our workspace, it helps to remind us that things outside of work are important. Pictures of family members and loved ones can help us to stay motivated and remember what we’re working for, instead of working for “work’s” sake. Our work space should be visually appealing to us. After all, we spend about a third of our day at work over the course of 40 years.

Take a moment to think about what your ideal work space would look like. What would make your work space more inviting? Adding your favourite plants (living ones, of course), candles, photos, fresh flowers and fresh fruit to your desk is a good start. The idea of having fresh fruit, flowers and fresh (recent) photos is that we’ll be inviting new energy into our work and lives.

“Creating a place of one’s own in an otherwise public work space environment should further contribute to individuals’ positive cognitive and affective states, resulting in enhanced mental resources,” psychological scientists Gregory A Laurence, Yitzhak Fried and Linda H Slowik write in a new study released in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.


If you have the space, desks and other office furniture can double up as exercise equipment. “Use your office furniture,” says Leah Britt, a personal trainer and clinical nutritionist at Premier Fitness Camp, a fitness resort in Park City, Utah. “You can do dips using the chair or the edge of the desk. Place your hands on the edge and bend arms to slowly lower yourself about six inches lower than the seat. Then, raise yourself by straightening your arms. Repeat this three times a day for 10 repetitions.”

You could do push-ups on the floor or using the desk, by leaning against it and pushing yourself  away.

Push Up



You can also perform a set of 10 squats three times a day. “Keep a small set of dumbbells or resistance bands under your desk,” Britt said. “You can use them while you’re on the phone.” She also suggests sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair, which will help posture and keep the abdominal muscles tight. Exercising in this way is known as “greasing the groove” and will increase blood circulation, keeping your body oxygenated throughout the day and your metabolism working. It improves cognitive function – for example, your ability to concentrate – making you more productive. It also assists with weight loss and improves your fitness.

Ways that you can “grease the groove”:

  • Do 20 body-weight squats every time you go to the bathroom.
  • Do 25 jumping jacks for every cup of tea or coffee you make.
  • Have a pull-bar installed above the door to your office; do five pull-ups every time you walk under the bar. You could also use the “Pomodor technique” in order to integrate exercise into your daily work routine. This technique is a productivity idea which stipulates that we are more productive with work cycles of, for example, 25 minutes on and five minutes off, or 50 minutes on and 10 minutes off. You could, therefore, use these five to 10-minute breaks to get your heart pumping. “As we are designed to be constantly moving, any exercise or movement is good for us. Logistically, it can be difficult to exercise every hour with our busy schedules. If this is the case, attempt to at least get up every hour and stretch and walk a little,” advises Motara.




Exercise at work


Originally a curiosity used only by eccentrics such as Dickens and Hemmingway, standing desks are now becoming a fairly popular addition to the workplace.

This is partly due to new research which indicates that sitting in the office all day is contributing to the growing chronic lifestyle-disease epidemic, which includes the increase of conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cancer. “As a species, we have evolved to constantly move. Sitting for most of the day can cause problems such as chronic venous insufficiency (varicose veins) and weight gain, with all of its complications. We are advised to do 10 000 steps (roughly 9km) per day. How many of us, stuck behind a desk, are able to achieve this?” questions Dr Riaz Motara, a specialised cardiologist and integrative doctor practising in Melrose Arch.


Dr Riaz Motara
Dr Riaz Motara

The average office worker spends around five hours and 41 minutes sitting at their desk each day. A few try to combat this by working out for 30 minutes after hours. However, not even running to the gym after work is the solution, says James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic with a specific interest in this field of study. “The way we live now is to sit all day, occasionally punctuated by a walk from the parking lot to the office. The default has become to sit. We need the default to be standing.” The answer, he says, is to incorporate standing, pacing and other forms of activity in your day-to-day routine. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Reduced risk of obesity: The key to weight loss is consistent, moderate movement throughout the day. Standing desks encourage people to take the opportunities presented to them in the work environment to move, such as walking to a colleague’s office instead of emailing them, or pacing when thinking.
  • Reduced risk of Type-2 diabetes and metabolic issues: Studies have found that increased periods of sitting correlate with reduced effectiveness in regulating levels of glucose in the bloodstream. It also causes cells to become insulin-resistant. Both of these side-effects result in Type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. When standing, the risk of this occurring diminishes substantially.
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease: Evidence to suggest that sitting contributes to heart disease has been around since the 1950s. More recent studies continue to back this research. Scientists have found that adults who spend two or more hours per day sitting have a 125% increased risk of health problems related to cardiovascular disease, including chest pain and heart attacks.

Reduced risk of cancer: A 2011 study found that prolonged sitting could be responsible for 49 000 cases of breast cancer and 43 000 cases of colon cancer annually in the US. The same research found that significant amounts of lung cancer (37 200 cases), prostate cancer (30 600 cases), endometrial cancer (12 000 cases) and ovarian cancer (1 800 cases) could also be related to excessive sitting.









When we are physically active we are far more likely to participate in a meeting than when we are stationary, as our brain becomes naturally more alert and capable of thought.

Aristotle knew this secret and taught only while walking, founding what we now refer to as Ancient Greece’s Peripatetic School of Philosophy. The name of the school itself is derived from the colonnade, or walkway, in the Lyceum in which he taught.

Benefits of walking meetings:

  • Physical activity that fits into the day;
  • Energised and more alert participants;
  • Different environments to inspire new ideas;
  • Time outdoors, in nature, and with fresh air and light;
  • Improved physical and mental wellbeing;
  • Walking and talking side by side cuts through hierarchical and status distinctions, and sets people at ease;
  • If the group is larger, several conversations happen at the same time and people can move around easily to talk to others in the group;
  • Enhanced group identity and strengthened team spirit;
  • Meetings that no longer feel like a waste of time;
  • The process is as helpful as the product; and
  • Utilitarian purposes can be added, such as fitting in errands.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and American president Barack Obama are all advocates of the walking meeting.


A young woman working








Electromagnetic ­ fields, or electric pollution, do not just occur at work, but are present in our everyday lives. Wherever there is a flow of electricity and this results in non-ionising radiation, an EMF occurs. So, whether you’re using a computer, watching television, boiling a kettle or using your mobile phone, you are creating an electromagnetic ­ field, and the higher the voltage, the stronger the ­ field.

Our body produces a mild EMF; however, when an EMF comes from manufactured objects, the intensity magni­fies, making it dangerous to our health. Things such as the wiring in office buildings, or bank upon bank of computer terminals in a confined space, can cause health complications. Prolonged, high exposure to electromagnetic ­ fields has been known to result in an impaired immune system. EMFs can lessen the capability of your white blood cells to eradicate tumours and combat disease. There is new evidence to suggest that EMFs can also have adverse effects on the central nervous system, the glands and the brain.

This evidence comes as a result of research that has linked the development of certain types of cancer in these areas to EMF exposure, as well as an assortment of other physical and psychological problems.

Here are some simple and inexpensive ways that you can block or reduce EMF’s in your workplace:

  • Blue light blocking glasses to reduce glare and headaches from staring at your computer screen;
  • Greenwave EMF filters that plug into your wall to block electrical pollution;
  • A negative ion generator that plugs into your wall for more healthy electrical ions;
  • A laptop grounding cable that plugs into your laptop for fewer power surges; and
  • An airtube headset to make talking on your cellphone healthier.