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10 Tips to Becoming a Healthier Designer

I’m sure the title of this article made more than a few readers scoff at the legitimacy of exploring such a topic, but the reality is being confined to a desk all day can take a serious toll on your health. When being a dedicated designer begins to directly affect your likely lifespan, it’s time to pay attention and make some changes.

This article will explore a few steps you can take to becoming healthier despite sitting on your can all day.

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The Dangers of Inactivity

One of the main enemies to the health of designers all over the world is inactivity. It’s really easy to become so addicted to sitting at your desk that you start to forsake basic physical activities that your body needs to thrive.

If you doubt the seriousness of the dangers of turning into a desk riding slouch, just check out the lengthy list of benefits of physical activity put out by the World health Organization (source):

  • Reduce the risk of dying prematurely;
  • Reduce the risk of dying from heart disease or stroke, which are responsible for one-third of all deaths;
  • Reduces the risk of developing heart disease or colon cancer by up to 50%;
  • Reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes by 50%;
  • Help to prevent or reduce the risk of hypertension, which affects one-fifth of the world’s adult population;
  • Help to prevent or reduce osteoporosis, reducing the risk of hip fracture by up to 50% in women;
  • Reduces the risk of developing lower back pain;
  • Promotes mental health by reducing stress, anxiety and feelings of depression and loneliness;
  • Helps prevent or control risky behaviours, especially among children and young people, like tobacco, alcohol or other substance use, unhealthy diet or violence;
  • Helps control weight and lower the risk of becoming obese by 50% compared to people with sedentary lifestyles;
  • Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints and makes people with chronic, disabling conditions improve their stamina.

Obviously, being physically fit is a must if you want to increase your odds of making it past fifty. Let’s take a look at a few ways you can start to increase your chances of survival.

1. Consider a Standing Desk

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Standing in one place is hard work. To stand, you have to tense your leg muscles, and engage the muscles of your back and shoulders; while standing, you often shift from leg to leg. All of this burns energy.”
-Treehugger.com

Sitting all day is not only detrimental due to inactivity, but also due to the pressure it places on your back and spine. A desk that allows you to stand for most of the day is a great way to reduce the harmful physical stress of making a living on a computer. Further, the constant repositioning inherent in being on your feet is even a modest way to burn calories.

Standing still for eight hours a day isn’t exactly easy though so be sure to buy a tall chair or stool to provide you with a way to take short breaks throughout the day.

2. Buy a Good Chair

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If you aren’t interested in a standing desk, at least buy yourself a decent chair. Cheap and stylish desk chairs like the one in the picture above might look better in your IKEA bedecked office, but they provide zilch in the area of proper support. Chairs that leave you sitting hunchbacked over a computer all day can strain your back and lead to poor posture and serious back pain down the road.

Unfortunately, the best chairs for your back aren’t necessarily the cushiest (or cheapest) either. Look for something that’s ergonomic and provides plenty of lumbar support.

3. Start or End the Day with a Jog

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To counteract the inactivity of designing for 8+ hours a day, try incorporating a quick run or jog into your routine either before or after work. Running is an excellent way to burn lots of calories quickly and has a ton of benefits including weight loss, improved cardiovascular health, improved bone health, improved mood and better coordination (source).

If you can’t stand the thought of becoming a jogger, don’t sweat it. Try creating your own quick workout routine that you can actually enjoy; just remember to keep it fairly challenging. Consider joining a gym to take advantage of the personal trainers and large selection of useful equipment. Sometimes writing a check to the gym every month will help you dedicate yourself to actually taking advantage of your membership.

4. Stop Eating Fast Food Lunches

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The need to work for a living provides many challenges when it comes to eating healthy around lunch time. The quickest, easiest, and tastiest solutions to midday hunger are found at drive-throughs serving up pounds of grease with every combo meal.

You don’t need to be a nutritionist to see that most fast food joints are dishing out heart attacks on a bun. Don’t get me wrong, I love burgers. The more beef, cheese and bacon there is on a sandwich the higher I rate it. However, there is danger in confusing food that should be an occasional indulgence with food that should be ingested several times every day.

If you’re pressed for time, look for solutions that you can quickly throw together and bring to work that are relatively low in calories and ideally high in fiber, protein or other essentials. If you must eat out, trying ditching greasy burger joints in favor of a healthier pita, salad or sandwich place (hold the mayo).

5. Snack Healthy

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Tasty snacks are an essential part of every office environment. M&Ms, popcorn and cheesepuffs abound in offices all across America as a way to fill the void between meals while being convenient enough to ingest while working.

The problem with snacks that are overly sweet or overly salty is the same as with everything else that tastes amazing, you can quickly eat more that you should. Many people avoiding sweets for health reasons fail to recognize the significant dangers of foods that are too salty.

You don’t have to eliminate all your favorite snacks to be healthier, just cut back on how much of them you eat. Even better, try replacing unhealthy treats with snack-friendly fruits and vegetables. Baby carrots, bananas, and apples all teach us that it doesn’t have to be covered in chocolate to taste great.

6. Switch to Water

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This one was the hardest for me to put into practice. As horrible as it sounds, for years of my life I pretty much drank soda exclusively. Apart from the occasional glass of milk, soda was my only option as I’m not the biggest juice fan and couldn’t stand anything as boring as water. My diet had become so rich in sugar and caffeine that I could chug the best energy drinks available right before bed and not lose a minute of sleep.

Eventually I realized that this was probably not the best way to live and starting cutting back my soda intake. It’s continually a fight for me as I still love Mountain Dew more than most things in life, but I found that I lost weight and felt much better from this single action.

If you’re as completely addicted to calorie-filled caffeinated beverages as I was, try buying a reusable water bottle and keeping it as the sole source of liquid on your desk. When you get up and go some where, bring your water bottle along for the ride. Eventually, like it or not, you start to actually drink the water. Sooner or later you find that you don’t mind it as much and one day out of nowhere you realize you love the stuff.

Try viewing soda as more of an occasional treat that you have to earn through enough weekly physical activity instead of a way to simply stay hydrated during the day.

7. Keep Some Weights By Your Desk

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Can’t find time to workout? Have a slow computer? As strange as it seems, these are the two catalysts for me discovering this particular trick. Photoshop has notoriously long save times when you’re working with high-resolution artwork. Try using your beach ball or hourglass time to grab a small weight and do a few reps. It only takes a small amount of effort and can add up quickly throughout the day if your computer is slow enough!

The many benefits of weight lifting include increased cardiovascular heath, increased strength, greater flexibility, and a reduced likelihood of injury.

8. Get a Hobby

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Being active doesn’t have to involve a gym and workout equipment. There are plenty of ways to stay fit while actually enjoying yourself rather than merely pushing your body to the limits for the sake of progress.

Try to avoid the temptation to spend your evenings and weekends staring at a screen and opt instead for a hobby that gets you on your feet. The possibilities are endless and include traditional team sports such as football and basketball, and other physical activities like hiking, yoga, rock climbing or cycling.

9. Chill Out

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Every job contains a certain amount of stress, but there is definitely a point where it ceases to be productive and becomes a health hazard. About.com estimates that around 90% of doctor’s visits are stress-related and lists the following possible symptoms of chronic stress (source):

  • depression
  • diabetes
  • hair loss
  • heart disease
  • hyperthyroidism
  • obesity
  • obsessive-compulsive or anxiety disorder
  • sexual dysfunction
  • tooth and gum disease
  • ulcers
  • cancer (possibly)

Though I’m skeptical of a few of these (gum disease?), most are perfectly legitimate and almost obviously correlated to stress in certain instances.

As a designer, if you’re constantly facing impossible deadlines and dealing with difficult clients, your stress levels can quickly start to soar. Find a way to ease the tension each day with some fun activities and look for solutions to scheduling woes and problematic clients.

10. Track Your Progress

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One of the ways that I’ve found to keep on task with staying healthy is to incorporate one my favorite things into solving the problem: technology. By tracking what I eat and how much exercise I’m getting with software, I turn staying healthy into a game in which I continually try to beat my high score. Consequently, the apps I find the most useful have neat graphs and attractive interfaces that keep me coming back. Here are a few that you should try out:

Daytum

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Daytum is a free web app that provides you with a beautifully minimalist interface to track anything you want any way you want. You can use numbers, percentages and graphs to track anything from the miles you run to the number of twinkies you eat.

LoseIt

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Loseit is a surprisingly full-featured free iPhone app that helps you track your calorie intake, daily nutrients, exercise and more. The best part is the app comes built-in with a huge library of popular foods allowing you to simply search for and add your lunch with hardly any effort. Even popular fast food menu items are included!

Nike+iPod

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If the free options above aren’t enough for you, maybe you’d prefer dropping some serious cash on shoes that interface with your iPod. If smart shoes are enough to get you out from behind the desk and out running, you’ll definitely want to look into the Nike+iPod products.

Conclusion

I share the tips above not as any sort of expert, but as a fellow designer who recently took a look at his own interactive lifestyle and was forced to make some serious changes. These tips are not concrete or guaranteed, they’re merely my attempt to share my experiences and ideas.

Use the comments below to share your own experiences and tips relating to how you balance and inactive career with an active lifestyle.