, by

Making the most out of your weekend: how to reset from the mental and physical strain of your job

(Photo credit: TONL)

When Monday rolls around, healthy habits like regular sleep and exercise can take a back seat to the stressful, busy demands of your job. But have you ever wondered if you can undo five days of damage with two days of good behaviour?

Here are some potential weekend activities that may — or may not — have lasting effects on your wellbeing.

1. Do: Be a weekend warrior

In case you haven’t heard, sitting is the new smoking. Research shows that being a desk potato significantly increases your risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. What’s more, until recently experts said that at least an hour of exercise each day was needed to reverse the effects of being sedentary during your workday, which can be tough to fit into a full schedule. Fortunately, a new study from England revealed that adults who crammed their recommended 150 minutes of exercise into just one or two sessions per week dropped their risks of heart disease and premature death by up to 40 per cent — similar results to those who hit the gym all week long.

Tip: You don’t need to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to reap the full benefits of weekend exercise. Catching up with friends and family over a couple of bike rides or brisk walks is enough, plus they have the extra mood-boosting benefits of social connection.

2. Don’t: Put off tidying up

You’re in good company if your work space is less than pristine — over 40 per cent of Americans admit to de-cluttering only once a month or less. Unfortunately, that mess is more than just an eyesore. Multiple studies connect messy environments to problems ranging from increased stress and depression to trouble focusing on tasks. Although you may be tempted to save tidying for the weekend when you have more time, this defeats the purpose. So don’t forget to spend a few minutes putting your desk in order at the end of each workday for a clean mental slate the next morning.

Tip: While a tidy workspace is good for focus, a little disorder can be good for creativity. A 2013 study from the University of Minnesota revealed that participants who brainstormed new uses for a ping pong ball in a messy room were almost 30 per cent more innovative than those in a neat one.

3. Do: Sleep in

In a perfect world we would all get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. However, in the real world never-ending deadlines and household obligations often conspire to deprive us of slumber. The consequences of sleep debt are far from trivial — diabetes, heart disease and serious accidents can all arise from ongoing short sleeps. But can binge sleeping on weekends reverse the health effects of weekday sleeplessness? Research suggests it can: although blood tests in young men who skimped on sleep for four days showed diabetes-like evidence of impaired sugar processing, two days of catch-up sleeps thankfully returned their metabolisms back to normal.

Tip: Although weekend snooze fests are a reasonable short-term solution, they typically aren’t enough to offset chronic sleep deprivation. Be sure to re-evaluate your overall sleep needs or seek medical advice if weekend sleep-ins don’t leave you feeling bright-eyed come Monday morning.

4. Don’t: Ignore your diet until the weekend

Let’s face it: sometimes work can be so hectic and demanding that the lure of a greasy takeout lunch becomes irresistible. While loading up on healthy food over the weekend to neutralize the effects of weekday stress eating may be an attractive idea, science suggests otherwise. Some compelling evidence for this comes from the realm of gut biome research, which links imbalances in intestinal bacteria to medical issues like obesity, allergies and even cancer. Scientists in a 2016 Australian study put rats on a weekly cycle of a few days of junk food followed by a few days of healthy food. The cycler rats developed gut microbiomes just as dysfunctional as other rats who were fed junk food the entire time — despite their intermittent days of good diet.

Tips:

  • Eat something belly-friendly every day, whether it be vegetables, fibre or probiotics, to keep your bacteria happy.
  • Packing a healthy bagged lunch the night before to avoid the morning rush is one good strategy.
  • A well-stocked pantry is essential for this, so schedule in time for regular grocery shopping.

5. Do: Take a walk in the woods

If you’re looking for one thing to do this weekend that could rid you of a week's worth of stress and lower your chances of succumbing to the office virus, look no further than the forest.

Japanese researchers discovered that men who hung out in a forest for just 15 minutes dropped their heart rates and stress-hormone levels significantly more than when they sat looking out at a cityscape. A weekend getaway in the woods may have even more powerful effects.

Tip: Get the most out of your weekend workout and get outside. Research shows that getting an eyeful of nature supercharges the positive effects of exercise, lowering blood pressure and boosting mood and self-esteem even more than if you get active to urban views.