The first Monday in September is Labor Day and many of us look forward to it mostly because it is a guaranteed three day weekend. Here’s what you should know about Labor Day, and healthier tips to take with you back to work after the holiday weekend.

Why do we celebrate Labor Day? 

Why do have this day in September off? Let’s look at the history of Labor Day in the United States to get a better understanding of what this holiday actually means.

1882

The exact origin of Labor Day is still up for debate. Some believe that Michael Maguire of the Central Labor Union in New York suggested it first, but others claim the idea came from Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor.

In either case, Canada was already honoring a Labor Day celebration which may have sparked the notion for workers in the United States. Between 1887 and 1894, several states incorporated their own Labor Day celebrations into their calendars with Oregon being the first. Thirty total states eventually adopted their own holidays before it was recognized federally.

1894

The Pullman Strike sparked a new debate in the U.S. over labor. After a reduction in wages, 4,000 factory workers for the Pullman Company in Chicago went on strike on May 11th of 1894. Employees of Pullman lived in a company town designed and run by the corporation. When wages were reduced, the company did not lower rent which caused significant financial problems for the laborers in the town.

Employees of Pullman were not unionized, however, the American Railway Union backed the workers and called for a boycott of the Pullman business. It affected all rail lines west of Detroit, Michigan and effectively stopped transportation and freight. A federal injunction was passed to stop the boycotts, but the strikers refused and President Grover Cleveland ordered the army to step in. Violence then escalated and eventually the strike collapsed.

Just four days after the end of the strike, President Cleveland signed the national Labor Day into law. The date in September was chosen by the Central Labor Union of New York. Once the day was signed into law, there were additional achievements in the labor movement that deserve celebration.

1935

The national Social Security Act was passed in 1935 as part of the New Deal legislation. Not only does it provide funds for individuals after retirement, but it also launched the nation’s unemployment program, provided aid for the surviving spouse and children of individuals who had died while working, as well as provided rehabilitation for the disabled.

1964

The Civil Rights Act profoundly transformed workplaces throughout the United States. We often don’t recognize the impact the greater civil rights movement had on labor. Among its many protections, the Act prohibits discrimination by employers based on race, national origin, color, religion, or gender.

1938

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) established a minimum wage, an 8 hour work day, overtime pay, and abolished child labor.

1970

OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was established to protect workers from hazards in the workplace. OSHA provides guidelines for businesses that cover all manner of workplace safety concerns including hazardous materials, fire safety, falls, and other common office and warehouse incidents. It has reduced the number of workplace injuries significantly since being enacted in the 1970s.

Big acts such as disability insurance and OSHA have led to multiple advancements that allow individual workers to avoid workplace pain and remain safe and healthy.

Today

Now the holiday is seen by many people as the official end of summer and a return to school for many children throughout the nation. However, the deeper meaning regarding the labor movement in the United States of Labor Day is often lost in the midst of pot lucks and parades.

How you can celebrate Labor Day

There is nothing at all wrong with a last summer vacation or a picnic at the park, but it can also be rewarding to do something meaningful to honor the individuals who fought hard to change the working culture in our country. Use this three-day weekend to reconnect with your friends and family and restore your work/life balance. You could also volunteer in your community to help others.

Another way to celebrate this day is to commit to lasting healthier habits when you actually get back to work. Here’s some of our favorite tips.

1. Incorporate more movement into your day

Too much sitting can hurt you and movement is an important part of your health. Because our work often calls for it, people in the U.S. spend most of their day sitting at a desk, staring at a screen. This is bad news for office workers. In addition to more common office ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome, too much sitting combined with repetitive tasks such as answering the phone and typing is a recipe for stiffness in the arms, legs, shoulders, and back.

There is hope: even in an office setting, there are simple ways to incorporate movement and stretching into your day. Doing so can reduce pain levels overall. Here’s how.

Take the long way

Park in the farthest space from the door. Take the stairs, not the elevator. Use the bathroom farthest from your desk.

Stand up

Whenever your phone rings, take the call standing up. In fact, stand up at least every 20 minutes and remain standing for another five. Walk in place or do a couple of lunges.

Take a real break

During lunch or any time you have a spare minute or two, walk outside and get some fresh air. Walk around your building.

Opt out of convenience

Go visit your coworkers in person instead of texting or emailing. Get out of your car instead of going through the drive-through. Take the long way to the office kitchen or water cooler.

Get into a routine

Set an alarm on your phone for every hour and take five minutes to go through this simple routine:

  • Stand up and sit down without using your hands
  • Shrug your shoulders up to your ears the drop them all the way down
  • Circle your arms forward and back
  • “Hug” yourself with your arms for a shoulder blade stretch
  • Twist your torso to one side then the other
  • Stretch your arms high up over your head
  • Do five lunges or five squats (or both) 

Movement doesn’t have to mean an hour-long break in the middle of the day or a trip to the gym. You can improve your energy level by making just a few simple changes to your daily routine.

2. Pack a pain-healthy lunch

Brown bagging it is a time-honored way to save money and eat well on a budget. Too often, though, our packed lunches end up with snacks that are filled with sodium, fat, and sugar. So how can pain patients create healthy, satisfying lunches that help manage symptoms? We look at some delicious, easy swaps for a healthy lunch every day, plus tips for planning ahead to avoid the morning rush.

Instead of: A sandwich

A standard sandwich, no matter how delicious, is still a standard sandwich. Easy to assemble and quick to eat, sandwiches have been a lunch staple for as long as people have brought their own lunches to work.

Maybe you are getting a little bored with your turkey-wheat-mayo combination. Maybe peanut butter and jelly just doesn’t float your boat. Or maybe you just want to pack more nutrition into your healthy lunch while maintaining the convenience of a sandwich.

Try: Tortellini salad with figs, walnuts, and prosciutto

Sandwiches are fast to assemble, but so is this salad with its balance of savory and sweet. Dark, leafy greens pack a pain-fighting punch, and walnuts provide omega-3 fatty acids, crucial for inflammation and a healthy heart.

Working to minimize the meat? The prosciutto is optional. Swap in some roasted and salted pumpkin seeds for texture, taste, and more nutrition.

Instead of: A big, hearty lunch

You know what happens: you pack a huge, delicious lunch. Two hours later your body is still so busy digesting your mid-day meal that you can barely keep your eyes open. You know you need good nutrition to get your through the day, but a simple salad is too light to be satisfying.

Try: Tapas-style rations

Tapas is small, snack-sized portions of food. Take some time in the beginning of the week and fill zip-top snack bags or small plastic containers with a variety of the following pain-fighting goodies:

  • Cherries
  • Almonds or mixed nuts
  • Smoked salmon
  • Red grapes
  • Edamame
  • Papaya (dried or fresh)
  • Blueberries
  • Wild-caught tuna with chopped avocado
  • Roasted broccoli
  • Spicy roasted chickpeas

Spreading snacks out in two-hour intervals may help maintain a more level blood sugar, preventing the afternoon slump.

Instead of: Tired romaine lettuce mid-day desk salad

Romaine lettuce, that crunchy workhorse of a salad green, stands above iceberg when it comes to nutritional value, but only just barely. Some greens, a few sad hothouse tomatoes, and a chunk of green pepper don’t have to be your fate at lunchtime.

Try: Kale salad with farro and avocado

Gluten-free, easy to make, and bursting with inflammation fighting fatty acids and vitamins, this delicious salad is satisfying and so good for you.

Toss leftover dressing with pasta, grilled chicken, and roasted vegetables for an easy and healthy lunch (or dinner!).

Instead of: Turkey wraps

Wraps are amazing lunch options. They are easy to make and easier to eat, but as with the sandwiches, sometimes it seems like you are just going through the motions when it comes to choices. Plus, you are toying with the idea of Meatless Monday but don’t want to focus on cheese and hummus.

Try: Sweet potato wraps with caramelized onions and pesto

Move over, boring wraps. There is nothing boring about this flavorful, exciting wrap. Sweet potatoes and basil are both powerful anti-inflammatory foods. Combined with naturally sweet caramelized onions and “meaty” Portobello mushrooms, you won’t miss the meat. Bonus tip: these wraps can be made ahead of time and frozen for fast lunch prep.

3. Create a less stressful morning routine

All of the above swaps won’t do a bit of good if you run out of time in the morning and end up eating out of the office vending machine. For stress-free mornings try these tips:

  • Plan your meals: Take some time to plan daily meals for the week. This will help build a shopping list and assist with planning any prep for the week.
  • Cook on the weekend for all week: Make freezer-friendly lunches on Sundays so that all you have to do is grab and go in the morning. Some wraps can be heated up for a hot mid-day meal; others are meant to be eaten cold. You can also make a big batch of soup and freeze in individual portions for the week.
  • Chop all of your veggies when you get them home: The second you come home from the grocery store, chop veggies and rinse and dry any salad greens you will use for the week. Make healthy choices the easiest ones in your ‘fridge.
  • Cook your grains ahead of time: Cooking one or two batches of different whole grains (farro, brown rice, etc.) makes it easy to throw together a hearty lunch salad in the morning. Double bonus: cook a big batch of grains for dinner, then save the rest for lunch.
  • Prep time-consuming elements ahead of time: Caramelized onions can take at least an hour to cook properly. Homemade salad dressing isn’t difficult, but it is one more thing in the morning. Prep all elements of your lunch recipes ahead of time.
  • Bonus tip: If you work in a suitable environment, see if your coworkers might want to plan a healthy lunch potluck once or twice a month. Focus on healthy options, and ask your coworkers to bring the recipe. This expands your culinary horizons and gives you new lunch options!

How do you plan to make healthier decisions at work when you return from the Labor Day break? 

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