Social distancing created a tremendous shift in the way people live, work, socialize, and exercise. With large numbers of people still working remotely, there are many challenges and opportunities. One of those is being physically active while working from home.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, 71% of people who could work from home were, and 54% said they wanted to continue to work from home when the pandemic ends. The sudden shift to working remotely is a trend that is likely to continue, so the challenges that have cropped up need to be addressed.
Remote work offers challenges and opportunities
I made the shift from working in my medical practice to working from my home office many years before the pandemic. I consider this my dream job: sharing my passion for mindful eating and living out my purpose—all while working from home.
I love the flexible hours, the short commute, and the lax dress code. (Soon after I made the shift to working from home, my husband came home from work and asked, “Was it casual Friday?” I looked down and realized that I was still in my pajamas! From then on, I made it a point to get dressed—at least from the waist up!)
However, I quickly discovered there were some challenges with having a home office:
- It can be difficult to set reasonable work hours (especially when you love what you do).
- There are countless distractions ranging from laundry to homeschooling. (Fortunately, my kids went to school back then.)
- You’re never more than a few steps from the kitchen. (Some people are struggling with more mindless and emotional eating during quarantine.)
- You don’t have to move around much throughout your workday.
That last one came as a bit of a surprise to me. I still hiked and did yoga regularly, but I was no longer walking from room to room seeing patients or back and forth to my office to do paperwork or make phone calls. (If you’ve read Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat, you might recall the story I shared at the beginning of chapter 17. My son did a science fair project using pedometers to compare how active each family member was.)
Working from home often means moving less
Even if your office job involves sitting at a computer most of the time, it’s easy to underestimate just how much movement you do in a work environment compared to working from home. Think about the kinds of things you do in the office you don’t do at home:
- Walking to and from the parking lot.
- Walking down the hall to talk to a colleague or attend a meeting.
- Walking to the water cooler (or break room – a potential minefield if you try to manage your eating restrictively!)
- Walking to lunch.
- Taking a flight (or more) of stairs.
Sedentary lifestyles associated with increased health risks
Why does your activity level during your workday at home or in the office matter?
For one thing, there is now a substantial body of data on the association of sedentary behavior with the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as with overall mortality. While the exact causes are not yet known, a sedentary lifestyle appears to be an independent risk factor.
And of course, with so much work and leisure time taking place in front of screens, our lives tend to be far more sedentary than they were decades ago. Time studies show that the average sedentary time increased from 26 hours per week in 1965 to 38 hours in 2009 in the U.S.
Increasing activity while working from home
When I realized that my daily activity had actually decreased when I moved to a home office, I decided to be more intentional about being active throughout the day. Here are some of the things I do that might inspire your own ideas:
- I built a stand-up desk with a second screen for my computer. This was before stand-up desks were widely available and affordable, so we went to Ikea and bought a cabinet that matched my office. We added some legs to increase the height and a smaller counter top to elevate the screen. (You can kind of see it in these two photos.) This allows me to comfortably stand when I’m using Zoom and alternate standing and sitting while I’m working on my computer.
- I stand while I facilitate workshops and coach clients on Zoom. I’ve found that it gives me more energy and enthusiasm.
- I even stand during our entire weekend virtual mindful eating retreats. After all, I figure I’d be standing at the front of the room the whole time if it was an in-person retreat!
- I often pace or walk around my house during phone meetings. My dog thinks it’s odd but it keeps me engaged and helps me think.
- I sometimes sit on my exercise ball at my computer. It’s good for my core and balance and encourages me to stretch my back and legs while I’m sitting.
- I try to take regular movement breaks so I don’t sit more than an hour at a time. (I’ve been sitting here at least an hour writing this article! Be right back…)
- Maybe it’s my age, but I begin to feel stiff and tight when I sit too long, so pausing to stretch my neck, my back, my arms, and legs makes a big difference.
- One of the things many of us love about working remotely is a more flexible schedule. This allows me to play pickleball or hike with my girlfriends before work or slip away for a yoga class—even if it’s online. (I even figured out how to connect my laptop to my big screen TV for yoga classes on YouTube!)
- When you work from home, it’s easy to short-change yourself on breaks and a “lunch hour.” Why not claim that time during your day for an activity break? It will increase your energy, focus, and productivity so it is well worth the time you invest!
- It doesn’t work well with my work, but I have friends who schedule walk and talk meetings (by phone or in-person). I even know a therapist who meet their clients for a walking session.
Whether you work from home or in an office, I hope you can find ways to build a little more movement into your days!
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