2011-04-28

Body Care for Designers: Design Makes You Fat

Previous Body Care for Designers articles discussed the importance of exercise and good nutrition for designers from the point of view of controlling OOS. Despite having access to this information many designers find exercise and nutrition difficult to control. Weight becomes an issue for designers and the effects are more than just from lack of exercise. The health of designers is at risk from self-reinforcing factors the spiral health downwards. This article explores those factors.

Designers typically work long hours in fixed positions over computers with little physical activity. There is the ever present pressure of the deadline and sleep is often seen as weakness. Designers also tend to be perfectionists and design generally has no clear measurements for success. This means that designers create a constant performance anxiety stress for themselves.

The right amount of stress is good for active humans needing a temporary boost in physical performance. Stress releases hormones; adrenaline which increases heart-rate to supply fuel to the body and cortisol which increases blood sugar for fuel, increases brain consumption of glucose prepares the body for healing. Adrenaline and cortisol are very useful for humans about to face a physical confrontation but potentially dangerous to a sedentary desk jockey. Stress hormones naturally flush from the body over about three days once stress has passed.

Over stress is very bad – this happens when stress occurs more often and with greater intensity than the body has the ability to flush the stress hormones. Prolonged over stress can cause many problems such as: Heart disease, insomnia, digestive problems, weight gain, memory issues, skin problems, depression and ADD. The consequent loss in performance from overstress can have a compounding effect as the designer gets more concerned about not meeting deadlines.

The hyperfocus on deadlines means that designers often neglect healthy routines and the circadian rhythms that government healthy sleep-wake-alertness cycles can get out of kilter. Pushing aside everything for the deadline means that designers will often forget to exercise. Exercise is important to help flush stress hormones to prevent over stress.

Focus on deadlines will have designers forget to keep good eating patterns. Mental fatigue tends to make the body crave easy calories like sugars and processed carbohydrates. Sleep deprivation can have much the same effect on craving. For some designers snacking will working can become compulsive. Stress does stop digestion so stress for prolonged periods starves the body of fuel so it begins to crave the sugars and carbohydrates to provide a quick energy boost. Stressed and sleep deprived people tend to consume more calories.

All this contributes to a spiraling worsening of designer health. The most telling sign for most will be weight gain. All the extra calories combined with little exercise means the risk of obesity is high. Other effects will be insomnia. Extreme cases will suffer depression, ADD and have severely impacted mental performance. These health effects all feed upon each other.

Designers must learn to manage stress. Everybody responds differently to stress and it is often about personal attitude towards a situation. Changing the attitude can go a long way towards lowering stress levels. Be more realistic about deadlines and if one might slip then talk to the client – often it might not be such a problem. Above all, maintain good sleep-wake-meal routines, eat good food, avoid energy dense snacks and exercise regularly. The more stressed, the more exercise is needed. Staying healthy and at good weights is just going to be that much harder for designers.