7 Health Benefits of Taking Your Lunch Break

A 2017 study conducted by Dalhousie University found that 40 per cent of Canadians are eating lunch at their desks. But skipping the opportunity to escape your work can negatively affect your body, mind and relationships.

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Benefits of lunch breaks

People who skip their lunch break often rely on the office vending machine to fuel their workday. According to Dr. Andrew Pipe, chief of the division of prevention and rehabilitation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, you can improve your nutrition by taking your break.

"The kind of food people choose when they stay at their desk is not the healthiest," he says. "You can be more purposeful in your food choices when you get up and leave your office during lunch."

Fresh salads, sandwiches, soups and fruit are healthy options that most of us won't find in a vending machine, or office kitchen.

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Fewer aches and pains

According to the Mayo Clinic, neck and back pain can result from continuous hours stuck behind a desk. Poor posture and sitting in one position puts strain on your spine and the muscles that help support it.

"Getting up, changing position and moving at lunch counters the effects of enforced immobility, enhancing your comfort for the rest of the day," says Pipe.

Leaving the office at lunch will stretch your spine and muscles, releasing pressure and eliminating discomfort. Plus, you'll trade that sickly florescent lighting and stale office air for sunshine and a refreshing breeze.

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You'll accomplish more

When you plough through lunch sat at your computer, your brain doesn't get a chance to switch off, and regroup. The result - an afternoon characterized by foggy thinking, tiredness and diminished productivity. Stepping away at lunch can help your brain fire on all cylinders.

"There's an element of refreshment that a different environment, particularly an external environment, [can bring]," says Pipe. Returning to work in 60 minutes time, you'll feel invigorated and refueled, ready to take on the afternoon's challenges.

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Improved concentration and health

To boost your health, productivity and brain clarity even more, take a walk at lunch. Bristol University found that when workers exercised during their lunch break, they returned to the job with a 41 percent increase in their motivation, and a 21 percent uptick in their concentration.

"There's no question that cognition, and concentration are improved by minimal levels of physical activity," says Pipe. "Walking at a pace where you can have a conversation with someone for 10 or 15 minutes every day can substantially improve your overall level of health."

In the past year, the media has been a buzz over sitting-related illnesses. Studies from the University of Leicester found that the more you sit, the higher your risk will be for diabetes and heart disease.

Sitting impedes circulation, and your metabolism. If you get up and walk, you'll burn calories and lower your risk of these diseases.

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Better digestion

Gobbling down a meal is the fastest route to an uncomfortable afternoon in the office thanks to indigestion, bloating, and acid reflux. Eating at a slower pace not only gives you the sensory pleasure of tasting your meal, but it also allows your digestive system to properly process the food. You'll swallow less air minimizing painful abdominal gas.

"Getting out, eating purposely and going for a walk afterwards facilities optimum digestion," says Pipe.

Another bonus? A Harvard Mental Health article found that slower eaters are more likely to feel full faster, so you'll eat less - a plus for your waistline.

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Practice self-care and lower stress

"Lunch breaks afford us the opportunity for self-care," says Pipe. "Many of us don't take the downtime to do things that can keep us healthy and happy whether that's going to your bank, or picking up your dry cleaning."

Using your hour wisely to eat well, and complete a few errands will leave you feeling less stressed, and in control of your to-do list.

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You'll be happier

Spending your lunch hour with friends or co-workers can erase the negative effects of a hectic workday. Releasing stress by venting about work, or sharing a laugh is a guaranteed mood lifter.

"There are many positive mental health benefits that come from socializing at lunch as opposed to staying in a cubicle with your computer screen," says Pipe. "When you interact with colleagues, you undergo a 'mind scrub' by talking about non-work related things - particularly if you're outside and stimulated by sunshine."

You'll feel happier, less stressed, and your work and home life will benefit from this more joyful, less frustrated you.