20 Ways to Make Your Lunch Break Healthier—That Have Nothing to Do with Food
If lunch is your only free time during the day, make it count! You won't believe how many healthy things you can do when you're away from your desk.
Go for a stroll
Let’s start with one of the simplest yet healthiest things you can do. Take a walk. Dietitian and yoga instructor Nichole Dandrea recommends making it a brisk one: “Get your heart pumping and oxygen flowing and notice the energy you have given yourself to get through the rest of the day.” And walking just 12 minutes can give your mood a lift as well.
Put your mind to it
Your walk can boost your mental well-being as well as your physical health. “Take a mindful meditative walk. Notice the birds, trees, and nature around you. Do this daily and you’ll train your mind to be more present, aware, and focused,” says Dandrea. If you don’t want to walk or can’t walk, you can meditate in any quiet, uninterrupted place—even your car. Taking even a few minutes during your lunch break to meditate will help you feel centered, says New York Times best-selling author, yogi, and nutritionist Kimberly Snyder. “It will help you feel centered in the middle of your daily tasks and prompt you to be more in control of your emotions and efforts.” She recommends this easy five-minute meditation: Sit in a relaxed way, either cross-legged on a firm surface or on a chair with your feet flat. Elevate the hips a bit if you are sitting cross-legged. Lift the spine, but make sure the shoulders stay nice and relaxed. Close your eyes. Listen and observe your breath for at least two to three minutes to begin, then work up to 5 minutes. Conclude by taking a moment of gratitude, thinking of three things you are really grateful for that day. In case you could use some prompts, these quotes will inspire gratitude.
Take a work-friendly fitness class
With a little digging, you should be able to find a fitness class that can fit into your lunch break. “A lot of yoga studios offer shorter classes geared toward people who work in the neighborhood around lunchtime,” says yoga teacher Kat Heagberg. “For example, I teach a class that starts at 12:10 p.m. and goes until 12:50 p.m, so that people have a chance to travel to and from work and to grab a bite to eat as well.” Here are some easy yoga poses you can do every day.
Do a shot
According to chiropractor and health coach Daryl Gioffre, “the most powerful food on the planet” is wheatgrass. So if you do nothing else on your lunch break, take a shot of the green stuff, preferably fresh. “Wheatgrass is 70 percent chlorophyll and chock-full of vitamins and minerals, not to mention antioxidants and phytonutrients,” says Dr. Gioffre. “Out of the 102 minerals found in soil, wheatgrass contains all 102. One shot has more vitamin C than oranges and more vitamin A than carrots.” If a shot of wheatgrass isn’t readily available near your work place, make your own from a dehydrated greens powder. Other nourishing foods to enjoy for lunch include celery boats (celery sticks filled with raw almond or coconut butter and hemp seeds on top—it’s loaded with healthy omega-3 and omega-9 fats to fight inflammation and help turn your body into a fat-burning machine. Or add avocado to your lunch. Dr. Gioffre describes it as “the most perfect food,” with a great balance of healthy fats, more potassium than bananas, and plenty of fiber to keep your digestion running smoothly.
Stretch it out
If you can’t swing a fitness class or even stray too far from your desk, you can still get in some awesome stretching action. Debbie Wolff, owner of Fusion Fitness and O2 Yoga, recommends a simple exercise to get you started: Take off your shoes, stand with your feet about hip-width apart, and reach your arms straight overhead. Engage your core muscles and use your obliques as you bend over at your waist and tip slightly over to the right. Keep your arms in line with your body. Do this on each side to lengthen the side body, pausing at the top before switching to the other side. Inhale as the arms move up and exhale as you move to side. Return upright on the inhale and exhale to other side, then repeat. With the same hip-width stance, bring your arms up overhead and take a deep forward fold. Keeping a slight bend at the knees, fold forward from the waist, letting the arms and head hang heavy as you exhale. Let your body gently sway a little from side to side. Take a few deep inhales through the nose and exhales through the mouth. Roll up, very slowly, one vertebrae at a time, while deeply inhaling; exhale through the mouth at the top for a cleansing breath. Bring hands up overhead and then slowly lower them to your sides. Here’s why it’s so important to stretch.
Give your teeth some TLC
Your lunch break is the perfect time to go for that dental check up you’ve been putting off for too long. “Dental visits are important for more reasons than pearly white color,” says Nurse Kimberly Jenkins. “A dentist will inspect and clean your teeth but also check you for any oral cancers.” You won’t believe the shocking conditions and diseases that dentists can spot first.
For Ralph E. Holsworth, Jr., DO, a board-certified family medicine physician and the director of clinical and scientific research at Essentia Water, one of the healthiest things anyone can do during their lunch break is far more simple in theory than in practice: Drink water, and only water. It may not be easy to shake the habit of choosing sugary, carbonated beverages, teas, or other beverages, including coffee, he explains, because we see a lunch break as a “break,” which for some people means a treat. “These daily treats add up in calories and act as diuretics in the human body, dehydrating us even more than we already are,” says Dr. Holsworth. “Plus, carbonated beverages with artificial sweeteners are processed as sugar in the body, further adding to our calorie intake.” Lunch is an especially great time to rehydrate because that’s when the body’s digestion is at its peak. “Drinking only water during lunch ensures proper hydration throughout the rest of the day and can lead to more effective weight loss, as you are decreasing the number of calories consumed and preventing overeating,” Dr. Holsworth says. “If you swap out a daily lunch break soda for water, you can easily save 750 calories in a week. Also, dehydration symptoms can manifest as hunger, and the desire to feast can be easily be contained with a glass (or two) of water.” These genius water hacks will help you meet your quota.
Check your peepers
Now that you’ve ticked the dental exam off your list, pay some attention to your eyes. “Eye exams don’t take very long and ensure you have good vision for driving, reading, and other daily tasks,” says Jenkins. “Checking for cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration on a regular basis can ensure you have healthy eyes as you age and that you can enjoy the normal activities of daily living for a long time. Don’t skip it!” Here’s what eye experts won’t tell you about glasses.
When it comes to your health, don’t underestimate the importance of self-care. Get into the practice of nurturing your mind and your soul, as well as your body. “Read an inspirational book,” suggests Dandrea. “Even a few pages of inspiration from a real book (not on the phone or computer) can bring a feeling of healing peace and comfort.” These are the best short books you’ll ever read.
Learn a new language
If there’s a skill you’ve always wanted to master, devoting your lunch break to it could turn it from a dream into reality. “Sure, you won’t be completely bilingual immediately, but if you’ve always wanted to learn French, Spanish, German or another language, commit to learning three new words a day,” suggests Dandrea. “Think of your vocabulary library by the end of the year!” Language apps are just some of the totally free things you could download today.
No one likes to get stuck in the arm with a big nasty needle and then watch the blood drain from their body. But not having to wait to see this gory scene makes it a little more bearable. “Checking your blood sugar, cholesterol, thyroid, urine, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 are all great tools to check your overall health,” Jenkins says. “A good phlebotomist can draw you in just a few moments and you”ll be able to return to work in a flash.” (Just don’t do these specific things before you head to the doctor’s office.)
Get a pap test
While guidelines are changing regarding the frequency of Pap smears, they’re still an important test you don’t want to miss. “Even if you are of an age where you have ‘graduated’ from Pap smears, it is still a good idea to have regular pelvic exams to check for vulvar and other vaginal cancers,” says Jenkins. We’ve got answers to the questions you’ve been too embarrassed to ask your gynecologist.
“If you’re a busy working professional, the game is all about efficiency,” says personal trainer Dani Singer, who created the “The P.A.U.L. Method” for 10-minute workouts—perfect for your lunch break. Choose one exercise from each of the following categories: P—Plyometric cardio (e.g. jumping jacks), A—Abs (e.g. plank), U—Upper body (e.g. push ups), or L—Lower body (e.g. squats). Perform each exercise back-to-back, rest for 30 seconds, and repeat until you’ve hit 10 minutes (four sets). The P.A.U.L. Method is so effective because it maximizes efficiency, strengthening your muscles while also getting your heart rate up to burn fat.” Don’t even have 10 minutes? These 60-second moves can reshape your body over time.
Write a love letter
“It’s not about the cute guy in the cubicle next to you, it’s about surprising your mom, niece, best friend, or partner with a handwritten note letting them know how much you love them. It can be short and sweet. Send it with a stamp via old fashion snail mail,” says Dandrea.
Give yourself a massage
A quick face and scalp massage can work wonders to help you avoid the afternoon slump. Natural health expert Jaya Jaya Myra recommends focusing around the temples, brow ridge, and eyes, to alleviate tension, stress, and headaches. Here are more tricks for delivering a soothing self-massage.
Take a nap
You might not want your boss to catch you sleeping on the job, but taking a snooze during your lunch break could work wonders for your health. “The afternoon nap is making a comeback,” says Martin-Rawls Meehan, Reverie co-founder. For starters, you’ll emerge more focused: Studies show that that 40- to 45-minute naps can increase alertness by up to 54 percent, Meehan says. Studies in the Journal of Sleep Research show that even a 10-minute nap result in “significantly improved alertness and cognitive performance.” Here’s how napping can boost your brainpower.
Write in a journal
If you have pent-up emotions and thoughts, the best way to get them out is writing in a journal. “Writing stimulates the flow of creativity and allows you a healthy way to express things you might not tell anyone,” says Myra. This innovative journaling style will make your hectic life so much more manageable.
They say laughter is the best medicine, so why not get some of it on your lunch break? “Laughing for 10 to 15 minutes during lunch will do wonders for the rest of your day,” says Cynthia Curtis, certified laughter yoga teacher. “Laughter makes you happier because it stimulates the production of endorphins and releases other phyto-nutrients the blood. It exercises the heart, lungs, diaphragm, and other internal organs. You expel stale air from your lungs when you laugh, so you inhale more fresh oxygen to feed your cells and make you more alert and creative.” Need some inspiration? Check out these hilarious jokes from the guys who make America laugh.
Pet something furry
Working within a few blocks of the Boulder County Humane Society gave Jess Saba the perfect lunch break diversion—visiting some cute kittens. “I started to visit the kittens on my lunch break and now most of the my colleagues do too,” says Saba. “We make sure to donate $5 each time. The mix of cuddling little fur balls and donating to their well-being is a great stress-relief and happiness builder.” Find those fluffballs a little mysterious? These are the things cats would love to tell you.
Crank up the tunes
You’ve probably already heard that classical music can stimulate your brain, but just listening to any music, as long as you enjoy it, can melt stress. A 2017 study from the University of Marburg, in Germany, shows that listening to music daily can significantly lower the body’s stress response—especially if you listen with relaxation in mind. So grab a pair of headphones and let the music take you away. Here’s what your favorite music says about your personality.