Fitness is an important aspect of home working

Working from home: top tips to keep you fit

Those empty morning commuter trains and deserted roads are a sure sign that millions of us are now working from home in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

If you do have a job where you can work from home, well done. After all, what’s not to like about home working? There’s the novelty factor of staying in bed a bit longer, there’s no dawn rush to the office and you can work in your pyjamas.

You’ll probably spend most of your time sitting at your kitchen table hunched over your laptop. There’ll be frustration while you try to tame your remote desktop and fascination as you take a sneaky peak at everyone else’s home decor when you Facetime/Skype/Zoom the rest of the team for that all important strategy meeting.

So far, so good, but did you know that working from home can damage your general health because you’re fitness levels have dropped and you’re not getting enough physical activity?

Move more, move often

Much is written about the perils of sitting at a desk all day (“Sitting is the new smoking” ) and the need to stay active in the workplace to ward off lifestyle-related health problems. We’re talking about serious conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. There are also activity-related issues, such as poor posture caused by tight and weak muscles.

However, most this information focuses on physical activity advice for people who have sedentary office-based jobs.

You may well be familiar with the key workplace activity messages:

  • Make your commute to and from work more active – whether that’s by cycling or walking (at least some of the way) or simply by making the most of “our friends the stairs” at railway stations.
  • Stand up for at least 2 hours a day – do you really need to sit to read that report or to take that phone call?
  • Make the most of your lunchtimes – an active lunch break can really perk up your afternoon. It can be as simple as going for a 15-minute walk.
  • Be active, even if you’re welded to your chair – these great deskercises will help you get micro active.

For many people their daily coronavirus commute now involves walking from one room to another. If that’s the case for you, you’ll need to make some specific behaviour changes to help you work towards levels of physical activity that will keep you healthy – whether in terms of the fabled 10,000 steps per day or 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise (the sort of activity where you can carry on a conversation but need to pause to catch your breath)

The good news is that the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggest that even small bouts (as little as 5 minutes) of moderate to vigorous physical activity when added together can provide important health benefits. “Exercise snacking” is the new fitness mantra.

Fitness tips for home workers

Because home working often lacks the formal routine of the office environment it can be very easy to neglect the physical activity side of your life. To get around this create your own healthy daily routine:

  • Design your own work schedule – it’s very tempting to start early and work into the late hours. Sticking to a work schedule with defined breaks will help you maintain a healthy work-life balance. It will also give you the time you need to fit some home physical activity sessions into your busy schedule.
  • Create a ‘commute’ – before you start work go out for a brisk walk for at least 15 minutes (coronavirus restrictions permitting). Walking increases your heart rate, kick-starts your metabolism and helps relieve stress. It’s the ideal way to start your working day.
  • Step to it – if travel restrictions or the weather keep you inside, use the space you have to get your heart beating faster. Remember to warm up first for a few minutes by starting slowly and gradually increasing the pace. Try crawling up your stairs on all on fours and then go down backwards. See how many repetitions you can do every 30 seconds. Step ups on and off the bottom one or two stairs are also great pulse raisers. You can make these more difficult by adding upper body movements, such as bringing your hands above your head as you rise, or by following through each upwards step by bringing your knee up to your chest.
  • Cardio moves – if you haven’t got stairs, try repeating 30 seconds of high knee jogging on the spot or jumping jacks followed by 10-15 seconds of rest. Again, start slowly and increase the tempo. For the more energetic of you out there, you could try 30 seconds of burpees, or mountain climbers. Aim to work hard enough so that you can only say one or two words at a time when you speak.
  • Choose your workspace wisely – don’t work from your bed or curled up on the sofa. It may feel like the height of decadence, but your upper body posture and poor neck will surely suffer. Remember all those health safety desk assessments that you do in the office? Your kitchen table workspace will fail most of them. So, think about adapting the height of your screen, the position of your arms in relation to your keyboard and where your legs are in relation to the chair you’re sitting on.
  • Don’t get stuck in your seat – it’s very easy to get too comfortable. If you stay in your seat for too long your body will eventually assume the shape of the seat. Set the timer on your phone to prompt you to stand up at least every 45 minutes. Have a dance and stretch your entire body. Even a simple upper body stretch (for example, standing tall and imagining that you’re squeezing a tennis ball between your shoulder blades) can improve your upper body posture.
  • A watched kettle – your readymade kitchen timer. While you wait for the kettle to boil, use the time to do squats, lunges or press ups (the latter against a wall or kitchen worktop if you can’t do full ones). Challenge yourself to beat your personal best.
  • Use simple exercise equipment – if you don’t have “proper” exercise equipment – dumbbells, resistance bands and the like – improvise. For example, you can do a lot with dining chair. Put your chair against a wall and step on and off it for 30 seconds. Stand in front of it with the back of your thighs against the chair and sit back (but don’t actually sit down) and repeat to activate those sleepy thigh muscles. You can pick also a chair up and use it to exercise your arms (eg biceps curls) and shoulders (front raises). Holding the chair away from your body will increase the degree of difficulty). Small weights, like tins and bags of flour or sugar also make great free weights to get those muscles pumping.
  • Remember, housework also counts as exercise – whether you’re mowing the lawn or vacuuming the carpets, changes of activity can all add up to your daily moderate exercise totals.

Home fitness routines

If you have the time and inclination try a combination of exercises to improve your heart health and develop your muscular strength and endurance. Here are a few routines/resources that I’ve found online:

Sport England: Stay in, work out. On demand content and apps

A 20-minute cardio workout that’s way better than the treadmill

The quick bodyweight workout that’ll leave you breathless

Best home workouts: Three steps to strength train away from the gym

Home exercise: This girl can