This blog post is aimed at all of you who work from home. Incorporating exercise into your working day doesn’t have to be difficult. But it is essential. I am passionate about health and fitness and, other than one five year ‘blip’, have always prioritised building movement into my day.
Working from home and keeping fit
My ‘blip’ in prioritising exercise in my day was from 2000 – 2005. Back then, I had a driving commute of 1hr 15 mins each way and had clients in London. I was driving over 35,000 miles a year and working long hours. In those five years I gained 12kg and developed terrible back and neck problems. In 2005 I changed jobs to work locally. I swapped the miles in the car for a 40-minute walking commute (uphill on the way home). I lost all the weight I’d gained and recovered my health and fitness.
When I set up my own business three years ago, I no longer had my 40-minute walk to and from work each day. I also cancelled my gym membership as it had been on my old route home. Given my past experience, I knew it would be vital for me to find ways to build movement and exercise into my new routine.
Here’s what’s worked for me over the years. I hope it gives you some ideas…
A routine to start your day on the right foot
We’ve all met people at some point who have ‘gotten out of the wrong side of the bed’. No one wants to be that person and a good way to set yourself up to start your day on the right foot is by laying a yoga mat on your bedroom floor before going to bed. This way you can do some sun salutation or simple stretches first thing in the morning to get your body moving after laying flat, in bed, all night.
After my morning routine, I get ready and leave the house to go to work, just as I have done for years. No, I don’t show up at my old place of work, I take myself for a 30 – 60 minute round trip walk and arrive back at my house ready to start work. The time that I allow for this does vary depending on the day I have planned, but instead of walking the same route each morning, as I would have when I was actually walking to a workplace, I now vary it as often as possible. I not only vary the route, but also the pace and any other things I build into the walk (e.g. alternating jogging and walking, some press ups or tricep dips on a bench). This keeps the experience, sights and interactions different and therefore stimulating. I also set out with the intention of being as mindful as possible during that walk so that I am present with my surroundings, and really noticing and appreciating them, rather than thinking ahead to the workload that awaits me when I get home.
Awareness and time management
In addition to being mindful when I go for my walk, it’s very important to be aware of how you’re spending your time while working from home. This is important not just for the sake of productivity but also for your health. It’s very easy to spend three or four hours at your desk without moving. You get absorbed in your work and suddenly a considerable chunk of time has elapsed, and you haven’t moved out of your chair at all. You may heard Tim Cook of Apple coin the phrase ‘sitting is the new cancer’. The dangers of being sedentary are now well reported. So how do we build our awareness of how long we are sitting? A good way to help keep us aware is to set an alarm for intervals that remind us to get up and stretch our bodies.
The Pomodoro Technique, a time management technique, suggests that you take a short break every twenty-five minutes. While this may seem too frequent, research suggests that our optimal concentration span is about twenty minutes, after which the quality of our attention and therefore our work, decreases. It has been suggested that the length of our concentration span is our age, where each year equates to one minute, plus two minutes extra. This holds up to the age of 18 after which it remains constant at 20 minutes. I, personally, feel that I have a longer concentration span when I’m really engrossed in, and enjoying, working on something. However, long periods of inactivity will have a negative effect on quality of thinking and output. For this reason, I began setting a timer for hourly intervals to remind me to move about throughout the day.
I used to work with an alarm to remind me to get up from the desk, however, I now have a fitness tracker, a Bellabeat. This tracker is geared towards women, but there is a whole range of fitness trackers available. The one that I chose, like many others, allows you to set the tracker to vibrate when you have been inactive for a certain amount of time. I find it great, because I don’t need to remember to set the alarm, it just picks up on my movements, or lack of, and gives me a nudge when I need it.
Making the right Choices
Choices play a huge part in how we nourish ourselves and sustain our success. Once you are aware of what you are doing, you can then make decisions about how to respond. Now that I have my fitness tracker reminding me of my activity levels, I am empowered to make the right choices for myself about how to improve my own activity levels on a daily basis.
As I am conscious of the need to move my body throughout the day, I decided to get a sit/stand desk. This simple sit/stand solution sits on top of my existing desk and can be raised up so that I can work in a standing position and then brought back down again to continue while sitting. I have been using this desk for the last year and it has been incredible! I would say I stand 80% of the time now, which is a huge improvement in the space of a year. In deciding to make the change, I researched all the options on the market and found one that was ideal for me. The Yo-Yo Desk has a smooth lift/drop action, so your glass of water doesn’t spill as you adjust it. I would highly recommend it, although it is not cheap. Whatever model you choose, a sit/stand desk is a worthwhile investment in your wellbeing.
Get the Blood Pumping
In addition to standing while I work, I also build some cardio exercise into my working day. Cardiovascular exercise is important for your health, it gets your heart rate going and is a good way to maintain fitness levels. As well as the walk to work, build in other short bursts of activity. You can go for a short run or speed walk around the block, get a skipping rope and do a few minutes skipping in your garden or back yard. It is more important that this cardio exercise is easy to fit into your day and can, therefore, be maintained over time, it’s not about the achievement of the exercise itself. It’s about building exercise into your day to help you be more productive in your work.
I take about three short cardio-breaks if I’m working at home all day. Each takes about 10 minutes and I then come home and get straight back into work. Now, that does mean that I spend most of the day sitting at my desk in lycra so that I am ready to go out. If you don’t have client meetings, then getting into your lycra first thing in the morning is a good way to eliminate those excuses you may create to avoid taking your cardio exercise!
Get creative, work with What You’ve Got
Doing something is better than doing nothing. If it’s really miserable outside, and you just don’t feel like going out you can still move indoors. Star jumps, running on the spot and other HIIT inspired exercises (have a look at TheBodyCoach for some ideas) can all be done at home. But they can feel a bit ‘serious’ and for me, movement needs to be fun and enjoyable. Here’s a little secret, I often run up and down the stairs five or six times waving my arms around like crazy. Why? Well, the arm movement is great, it gets your heart-rate up and releases any tension that may have built up in your shoulders and back, but it also makes me laugh. A lot. Exercise doesn’t have to be serious and boring, the more you enjoy yourself, the more you will be motivated to want to do it. If you are struggling to get motivated. Then take a look at my top four tried and tested tips for getting motivated. Remember, no-one will see you in the privacy of your own home, so you can let go. And if you do start to laugh when you do this, it’s even better! It makes you feel good which releases endorphins and gets you pumped to get back into your work when you’re finished.
Try New Things
I do a lot of yoga and pilates as a way to keep fit and relax. There are quite a lot of pushing movements involved in both of those activities (downward dog, press-ups etc). However, during two Wildfitness retreats last year I realised that I don’t do any activities which involve the opposite action; pulling or hanging. To address this imbalance, I bought a pull-up bar which I have installed in the doorway of my home office. Although it will take time before I can do even one full pull-up, I plan to use it every time I pass through the doorway. I’ll swing into my work, like a monkey, enjoying the sense of fun and freedom it gives – and over time my upper body strength will develop in pulling, as well as pushing. I’m excited to try this new activity out and see what difference it makes over time.
Of course, you have to be aware of how you’re using your body before you realise where the imbalances lie, so spend some time observing the movements andactions you do on a regular basis. If there is an imbalance why not come up with a new, fun way to rectify it.
Have Fun with It
Working from home gives you lots of freedom to work in a way that suits you. You may be able to choose your hours or take breaks at different times, pop out to pick up the kids, and many other things that those who work in a more formal office environment cannot do. Why not use this freedom to your best advantage?
Inject some exercise and activity into your daily routine to keep you happy, healthy and full of energy. It doesn’t need to be dull, choose short activities that make you laugh, that you enjoy, or that get you out where you can see something different so that you come back to your work with a fresh perspective.
Have you got any tips for incorporating exercise into your work day? I’d love to hear them and we all learn from each other’s experience, so please leave a comment below and share your tips.