For a lot of us, it can feel frighteningly easy to forget to take our lunch break while we're at work. However, there are many science-backed reasons why you should take your lunch break — and I do mean break. As in, stepping away from your desk, allowing yourself to eat in peace and give yourself a mental break from the tasks at hand. (No Sad Desk Lunches here.) Actively taking your lunch break also ups the chances that your salad isn't going to slowly wilt on your desk while you continue working and forget about it. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans don't actually take their lunch breaks: Studies show that only one in five Americans actually leave their desks for their lunch breaks, and most Americans eat sitting at their desks. Yikes.
Most of us know the health-related reasons it's important to eat lunch. Your body requires energy and hydration to function properly, which is where your lunch break comes in — the fact that your body needs food doesn't stop being true just because you're having a busy day at work. When your body goes too long without food, it can go into starvation mode which can lead to a slew of health-related issues. Even if you're eating at your desk, though, you may see more benefits from removing the desk from your lunch equation completely and eating elsewhere, even if it's just at a table on the other side of the office.
There are many benefits to taking your lunch break, but here are five of the biggest, research-backed ones:
1. It Gives Your Brain A Rest
Taking short breaks from our work — even just a few minutes at a time — can make a huge difference in our concentration levels. Basically, all of our decision making and interpersonal interactions gradually deplete our brain's energy over the course of the day. If we don't give it some time away from our responsibilities (and especially if we're not even refueling our brains with something to eat), it's a recipe for an afternoon slump where we're struggling to get through the rest of the day. Actually taking your lunch break and putting your work on hold for as little as 20 minutes can give an increase to your productivity for the entire day. Awesome, right?
2. It Spares Your Eyes Some Screen Time
For many of us, work involves staring at a screen for a good portion of the day, whether it's a computer, a mobile phone, a tablet, or something else entirely. If you've ever spent more than two consecutive hours looking at a screen, though, studies show that you may be hurting your eyes. Computer vision syndrome can set in, which doesn't appear to cause permanent damage, but can cause a lot of temporary discomfort for those it affects: If you've spent countless hours staring at your screen and you realize your eyes feel red, dry, strained, or blurry, you may be experiencing computer vision syndrome. If you take your lunch break away from your desk and keep yourself from staring at your phone instead, it could give your eyes the relief they desperately need to balance out all of that screen time.
3. It Gives You Time To Recharge
This one varies slightly depending on your actual job and work environment, of course, but generally speaking, actually taking your lunch break gives you some time to yourself so you can recharge. If you're an introvert, it can feel draining to be in a work environment where you're interacting with people all day. Even a short burst of time to be alone with your thoughts may be just what your emotions need to recharge and replenish to get you through the remainder of the work day. If you find yourself craving chitchat at lunch, it might be a good move to encourage your coworkers to go to lunch with you, or make space to talk in the breakroom.
4. It Lets You Eat More Mindfully
The model of mindful eating basically encourages people to be present while they eat, so they're enjoying their food and taking it in with all of the senses — taste, texture, smell, sight, and even sound. This is in contrast, of course, to that feeling when you're distracted by a million other things and then realize you've finished your entire meal before you've even tasted it. If you frequently eat at your desk, it's all too easy to see food as just something you need to scarf down so you can continue work — but whil food is certainly fuel for your body, it's also nourishment for your brain, Mindful eating is an approach to food that values your body and you — not just the literal fuel you need to function.
5. It Gives You The Chance To Move Your Body
Now, not everyone can actually exercise during their lunch break (though if you can and choose to, that's awesome), but even if you aren't breaking a sweat, getting up from your desk and moving your body is still beneficial. Leaving your desk for lunch allows you to stretch your muscles and wake up your body from its stagnant sitting position. If you leave the office to get lunch, this can also give you time for a short walk where you can get fresh air and get your heart rate up. Our bodies aren't meant to sit at desks all day, all the time, so even if you aren't taking a class at the local gym, just getting up from your desk and putting your body into motion is an important decision to make for your health.
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