Most of us spend the majority of our day at our desks, staring at our computer screens. As you might suspect, it's not so great for our neck, eyes ... or just about anything. But for some reason, most of us are guilty of not taking enough breaks at work (or any at all) — which is unfortunate. Breaks, even five-minute-long ones, are one of the best things you can do during your workday, no matter what line of work you’re in. And, taking time to actually eat your lunch away from your workspace? Well, that's even better.
According to a 2014 study, the ideal length of a break should be 17 minutes away from the computer, followed and preceded by 52 minutes of work. If you take eight 17-minute breaks a day, that adds up to 136 minutes — more than two hours of lounging around and resting up. There's likely no way, unfortunately, that in most offices will let that will fly.
Still, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to pause throughout your work day, because taking breaks is extremely beneficial, both physically and mentally. Here are nine benefits of stepping away from your workspace and taking a breather. (Maybe you can use this list to convince your boss that you should actually be able to leave the office for lunch without getting the side-eye.)
1. BREAKS BOOST CREATIVITY AND PASSION
You may not consider yourself someone who will ever get the hang of meditating, but studies have shown that breaks in which meditation and mindfulness are practiced are the first steps to boosting your creativity, both in and out of the office. Mindfulness meditation can also increase your compassion, which, depending on what your office environment looks like, could be the major ingredient in getting through the day without telling off a coworker.
2. BREAKS CAN REFRESH YOUR ATTENTION SPAN AND SUSTAIN CONCENTRATION
The attention span for an adult is anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes. When it comes to concentration, we need to realize that everything we do throughout the day is just subtracting from the cognitive resources in our brain, which is why we sometimes find ourselves running on empty.
It makes perfect sense that our attention spans and concentration need to be rebooted, so to speak, at several points throughout the day. Studies have shown that just getting away from our desk to take a walk in a park (or anywhere you can find some nature) is exactly what the brain needs to regroup and get itself back on track to focusing.
3. BREAKS CAN LOWER YOUR BODY MASS INDEX
According to the Center for Disease Control, getting up and moving around for even five minutes every hour can help in keeping your body mass index lower and help with your waistline, too. You may not feel like you're doing much by stretching and getting water during those five minutes, but every little bit of body movement helps. You'll keep your triglyceride levels in check, too, for which your arteries will be very grateful.
4. NAPPING BREAKS CAN HELP WITH MEMORY AND LEARNING
Studies show that napping for as little as 10 minutes can make someone more alert, and that napping for 25 to 30 minutes aids in memory and learning ability. More and more companies are offering "nap rooms" as a place where their employees can take a break and get some shut-eye. The idea is that if employees are taking a break to rest their brain and eyes, they'll have better productivity while they're on the job. If you work from home or in an office with a certain amount of leeway, a 60 to 90 minute nap break can even contribute to higher creativity.
5. LUNCH BREAKS ARE ESSENTIAL FOR BRAIN FUNCTION
While it's long been thought that the most important meal of the day is breakfast, the midday meal is equally important. Not only is a lunch break going to kill that hangry feeling you have, but it's going to up your productivity level, too. In choosing appropriate foods that fill you up without making you feel sluggish, like fish, veggies, nuts, and dark chocolate, studies show that the latter half of your day will be much easier on your brain and body.
6. BREAKS LOWER THE RISK OF ON-THE-JOB ACCIDENTS
Exhaustion and fatigue are one of the top 10 causes of on-the-job accidents. (And yes, you could just fall off your chair.) According to the CDC, regular breaks help prevent such mishaps and keep on-the-job injuries to a minimum.
7. BREAKS KEEP YOU ON SCHEDULE
Keeping your breaks regular at work will force you to stick to a schedule — it's called a break routine. As Dr. James Levine told the New York Times, the break routine is crucial in work effectiveness and productivity because “the thought process is not designed to be continuous." It needs as much of a break as the rest of your body.
8. BREAKS KEEP YOUR EYES HAPPY AND HEALTHY
If you have one of those jobs where you're constantly staring at that computer screen, then you run the risk of suffering from computer vision syndrome. CVS can result in blurred vision, headaches, eye strain, and even pain in the neck and shoulders. Taking your eyes away from your computer (phone and tablet, too) every two hours for 15 minutes, and looking into the distance every 20 minutes of computer use for 20 seconds, will help keep your eyes, head, and neck feeling awesome.
9. BREAKS LOWER STRESS
A 2012 study found that 65 percent of Americans say their job is the number one source of stress in their lives. But of that 65 percent, only 37 percent felt that they had a handle on how to deal with that stress — maybe it's because that 37 percent doesn't take enough breaks.
A brain that never stops and continues to pile on more and more thoughts and concerns is just setting itself up for a disaster. According to the American Psychology Association, allowing yourself to step away, recharge, and truly relax has a major effect on lowering stress. Breaks are simply the best way to prevent work burnout.