Work can be crazy, and working through lunch almost feels expected at many offices. But, if you can actually take a break, even just a few times a week, it can make a big difference for your physical, mental, and social well-being. Here are some of the top benefits of not eating at your desk.
1. Avoiding Chemicals, like Flame-Retardants
A lot of technological equipment has flame-retardants in the casing, like computers, keyboards, even wireless modems. Dr. Todd Whitehead of The Center for Integrative Research on Childhood Leukemia and the Environment at The University of California, Berkeley, suggests that not eating lunch in front of your computer can help lower your exposure to flame retardants from these items. Flame-retardants are typically not chemically bound to the products (basically they are just sprayed on at the end) meaning they easily escape and stick to other things, like your fingers. When this happens and you don't wash your hands before you eat, you can also end up eating a small dose of flame retardants, which have been linked to problems like reproductive issues, neurological impairment, and cancer. "People have done experiments where they have looked at the frequency of hand washing and levels of flame-retardants in people's blood. You can see that people who wash their hands more frequently have lower concentrations of those chemicals," shares Dr. Whitehead. Think about what you do at your desk on a typical day. Most likely, you are constantly typing on your keyboard, maybe answering a phone call, and snacking on something. This is why, getting up, washing your hands, and keeping your lunch away from your desk (or at least your computer) will help limit the amount of flame retardants you're unintentionally eating by working through lunch.
2. Fresh Air
If you can sneak in a walk around the block while you break for lunch that would be ideal. Not only do you get the obvious benefit of a bit of exercise, but the walk outside will get some fresh air into your lungs, vitamin D on a sunny day, and will help clear your brain to make you more productive during your afternoon. People who are able to take a walk during the lunch break also tend to feel less stress during work (1, 3).
3. Eye Health
While eye professionals have determined that long term, continued use of screens won't cause permanent damage; it can cause headaches and dry eyes. Many eye professionals suggest following the 20-20-20 rule, which is to look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes (2). While this might not necessarily mean you need to get up from your computer at lunch, giving your eyes a break from all that screen time can't hurt.
4. Social Contact
Even if you don't make it out of the office, making it to the kitchen or the break room will open the opportunity for you to meet someone or say hello. Talking to other people is generally a good thing, and who knows, you might make a new work friend in the process. You can even share some tips with each other, too, like where to find the best coffee in the neighborhood, or where to get super cool, toxic free lunch containers (hint: check out our roundup of lunch containers).
5. Mental Break
Sometimes you just need a mental break. Taking a few minutes in the middle of your day to stand up, get the blood flowing, and think about something other than work can actually be good for you and your productivity (4). It allows parts of your brain to rest and recharge, just like your muscles have to do when you are working out.