8 Ways to Stay Healthy if You Work in Retail

While it would be nice if your only job was to live a healthy lifestyle, care for your loved ones and generally continue being awesome, there’s a good chance you also have to work for a living. Google "staying healthy at work" and you're bound to find countless articles and life hacks for eating better, getting out of your chair more often and drinking plenty of water—but what if your job doesn't involve a chair, much less a desk?

If you're among the roughly 4.3 million Americans who work in a retail environment, your workday looks a whole lot different than someone who sits at a computer in a cubicle or office all day. You’re likely on your feet for long periods of time, ringing up customers, stocking shelves or folding clothes. Breaks are typically short and structured, and food options can be limited. Maybe you grab some Chinese takeout from the mall food court for lunch, and then a bag of chips and a soda from the break room vending machine for a snack. By the time your shift is over, you may be too tired or lack the time to cook a healthy dinner, opting to hit a drive-thru on the way home. And, with the aches and pains from the physical demands of the job, you’re more likely to collapse on the couch than to try and squeeze in any intentional exercise. Sleep can be a challenge, too, what with the unconventional and fluctuating schedules.

According to a recent survey, 45 percent of respondents believe they have gained weight at their present job, but you can be the exception to the rule. Despite any preconceived notions, you should never have to sacrifice your health and fitness for the sake of a paycheck. There are some smart strategies you can employ to embrace healthier routines, whether you’re working the register or roaming the sales floor.

Bring your own smart snacks.

Most retail environments aren’t likely to offer much in the way of healthy snacking options, so the best way to avoid the siren song of the vending machine is to come equipped with your own nutritious nibbles. Ditch the potato chips and candy bars in favor of homemade trail mix, dried fruit, carrot sticks, string cheese, low-fat popcorn or other better-for-you choices. By portioning out snacks into individual bags or Tupperware containers, you can manage portions and keep your body fueled no matter what happens during your shift.

Make the most of your breaks.

Resist the urge to spend your break chatting with co-workers or scrolling through social media. Even if you only get 10 minutes, use it to do something to improve your physical or mental health. That might mean walking a lap around the building, heading outside for some fresh air, reading a chapter of a self-improvement book or fueling your body with one of the healthy snacks you packed. When you use your break in an intentional, healthy manner instead of just mindlessly filling the minutes, you’ll come back to work feeling energized and accomplished.

Invest in supportive footwear.

For retail workers who spend long periods of time on their feet, ill-fitting footwear can cause aches, pains and poor posture. Dr. Matt Tanneberg of Arcadia Health and Wellness Chiropractic says it’s important to wear shoes with arch support that are comfortable to your foot type. If possible, avoid footwear that will collapse your arch, such as flats, sandals or heels.

"If your feet start to bother you throughout the day, take a break, sit down for a few minutes and take your shoes off during that time," he suggests. "The more pain that develops in your feet, the [more] different your gait will become, which will lead to pain and problems in your ankles, knees and hips."

At the end of your shift, Dr. Tanneberg recommends sitting with your foot placed on a tennis ball, lacrosse ball or golf ball. Roll the ball through your arch and heel to alleviate pain and inflammation in the plantar fascia.

To improve absorption and provide more cushioning, physical therapist Vivian Eisenstadt recommends wearing orthotics or inserts in your shoes to keep the feet from flattening over time, which can lead to knee, hip and lower-back pain. Consult with your doctor to get advice on the best shoes for your situation.

Get a few insulated food containers.

If your workplace doesn’t offer a refrigerator or microwave, it’s a good idea to invest in some insulated food and beverage containers to keep snacks and drinks hot or cold. You’ll be much more likely to eat the healthy soup you brought for lunch if it’s not lukewarm, and your water will be more refreshing if it stays chilled all day.

Designate a time and space for meals.

It might be tempting to shove down some food in between customers or while hanging out in the break room, but retailer Diane Lloyde Roth, who owns the boutique L'Armoire, recommends eating your mid-shift meals away from the workplace so you can focus on fueling up and won’t get interrupted. Also try to make time for a quick five-minute walk, meditation and/or deep breathing after each meal, she suggests.

Protect your vein health.

Store employees who stand for several hours a day are at a higher risk of developing varicose veins, warns Dr. Nisha Bunke of La Jolla Vein Care. Not only are they unsightly, but bulging leg veins are also an indication of poor circulation, which can endanger your heart health.

"To keep legs healthy, consider wearing compression stockings to give the blood vessels in the legs external support," Dr. Bunke suggests. "There are different strengths of compression stockings, from light, over-the-counter support to medical-grade, prescription-strength versions."

She points out that compression stockings also help with other symptoms that can come from prolonged standing, such as leg fatigue, swelling, aching and feelings of heaviness.

Make stretching part of your shift.

The physical demands of a retail job can leave you feeling sore and stiff at the end of your shift (and beyond). The best way to minimize these aches and pains is to include plenty of stretching sessions. "A regular stretching program can help you to maintain your range of motion and make daily living activities easier," notes personal trainer and fitness expert Jen Mueller. Stretching at work can also provide an energy boost, increase circulation and improve posture and flexibility.

You don’t have to wait until your break to loosen up your muscles, either: Throughout your workday, try to sneak in some standing stretches, such as the torso stretch, standing quadriceps stretch, standing wrist and forearm stretch, standing shoulder stretch and the wide-leg hamstring stretch.

Practice proper posture.

Are you succumbing to the mid-shift slump in more ways than one? Over time, lack of proper vertical alignment can cause muscle imbalances and restricted joint movement, which then leads to pain, stiffness and reduced range of motion. Do posture check-ins periodically to make sure you’re not slumping.

"All postural pain comes from being in a certain position for too long," explains Keith Sparks, a chiropractor with ICT Muscle & Joint Clinic. "The best way to combat this is by stretching in the opposite direction to keep the body balanced."

For long-term improvement, personal trainer Glenn Kent writes that it’s important to strengthen the muscles in the neck, core, upper back, hamstrings and glutes.

Retail environments can be dynamic and rewarding workplaces, particularly for those who don’t like sitting at a desk in an office all day, but they aren’t always conducive to weight loss or healthy living. By incorporating some of these smart strategies on the job, you can enjoy wellness benefits that will enrich your life far more than any paycheck.