As more people tele-commute, work from home or work from anywhere, we may have added to our girth. Our waists have gotten wider, our chins have doubled, and our bodies a bit thicker.
The Pandemic and Weight Gain
A Harvard Medical School study of weight fluctations for 15 million patients during the Covid-19 pandemic showed that almost 40% gained weight. Using 12.5 pounds as a baseline, the researcher found that 27% gained less than 12.5 pounds while 10% gained more. A small percentage (2%) gained almost 30 pounnds.
In a Romanian study cited by the National Library of Medicine, 61% of men and 71% of women participated in physical activity less than 30 minutes per day!
Of course, contributors to the gain in weight were: stress and increased intake of unhealthy food. During the pandemic, we had an excuse. As people were forced to self quarinteen, work from home, and refrain from travel, entertainment and getting outdoors; the acceptance of seditary lifestyles became the norm.
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Now, after the pandemic, there are remote workers, workers working anywhere and working from home who are concerned about their weight. With more people working from home, people tend to sit more in one position and move a lot less. Therefore, a common question has come up – how do I get more exercise and avoid eating too much when I am at home full-time? This is very intriguing question. The Harvard Medical School research analyzed the data and also concluded that not everyone gained weight during the mandated lockdowns of Covid-19.
Not all Gained Weight During the Pandemic
Actually, 35% of of the 15 million patients lost weight during the first year of Covid-19. It was concluded that this part of the population ignored their hunger cues to eat food. Further, instead of responding to stressful situations by eatin nervously, this group of individuals reacted the opposite which led to weight loss. A deeper analysis revealed that it is possible that the people who lost weight, lost their muscle mass (which weighs less than muscle) and became fatter even though fat weighs less than muscle.
Don’t fret though, it is entirely possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle and actually improve your physical health when telecommuting or working from home.
Here are 10 different things to focus on when it comes to staying healthy while working from home.
1. Staying Active and Stretching
One of the best things you can do when you work from home is to stay active. Even if you sit at a desk or work on the couch with your laptop all day, there are still plenty of opportunities to move your body. Why? Because you need to maintain and/or build your muscle mass.
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Make it a goal to move more throughout the day, not only with daily exercise but by getting up from your from your sitting position and stretching more often.
Here are some ideas:
Use a fitness tracker– to chart your movement. Set a goal of 2,000 to 10,000 steps per day. I use a band similar to this one that tracks my steps and heart rate. It also connects to my smartphone and provides data in a spreadsheet format so that I can compare my rate of activity depending upon the day, time of the day.
Research from John Hopkins Hospital show that when people use a fitness tracker on a regular basis, those who measure their activity increase their steps by more than a mile per day! So hop to it! Chop. Chop.
Start your day with a gentle workout session – In the morning, you can boost your energy and move your body with slow and gentle movements as a form of exercise. Walking meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and Pilates are great for the morning, but a short walk would also be great.
If you are more into bouncing around and literal dancing to get the blood flowing and activate your positive ‘can do attitude‘ consider listening to jazzexercise or EDM playlists.
Find more reasons to walk during your day – Walking is the gentlest form of exercise, and the easiest to do. You can walk your dogs a little further than you normally would, go on a family walk around the neighborhood after dinner or walk to run errands if it’s close enough to your house instead of driving.
Consider using portable desk excercisers- I use the Fitness Stepper from Amazon and the mini trampoline when I travel as a digital nomad. They can be packed in your travel luggage and are pretty lightweight. Each desk excerciser is priced in the $50 to $75 range.
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When I work from my home base, I use an ellipitcal which is more expensive at around $500 price range. It is heavy and stationary and not used for travel. Please be advised that we receive a small commission should you choose to purchase at our recommendation.
Purchase dumbells. When you are on the phone or involved in a virtual meeting, you can exercise your arm muscles with dumbells and/or weighted wristbands or exercise your legs using ankle weights. I have found these to be useful.
Add in other forms of exercise – What else do you enjoy doing? Do you want to take an afternoon spin class with a friend? Do you like getting out of the house to go on a hike, walk along your neighborhood trail, or head to the gym? Take your time to find more forms of exercise that will motivate you.
2. Eating Healthier While Working from Home
We can do a lot of exercising while working from home. But it is not enough. Remote workers and telecommuters can fall into the trap of snacking or indulging in treats all day. The refrigerator and freezer become the ‘go to places‘ for taking a break from the exhausting virtual meeting or demanding phone call with your supervisor. If you have found that your nutrition is falling behind from working near your kitchen all day, here are some tips that can help:
Move your home office further away from the kitchen – If it is not too much trouble, move your virtual home office work space further away from the kitchen. At a minimum, place a physical barrier or screen between your work station and the eatting area. Here are a few colorful screens below. If you have a more minimalistic approach, you may like the ones that are functional.
Have healthy snacks on hand – If you tend to reach for chips or candy often, keep healthier snacks within your reach. Have fruit or nuts on your desk, keep granola bars on the counter, make sure your fresh fruit and veggies are visible, instead of a box of donuts on the counter.
In fact, what I have found helpful is to place a bowl of fresh fruit like strawberries, blueberries and oranges on my desk. When I feel the urge to munch, I reach for a healthy piece of fruit.
Do meal prep – Meal prepping on the weekend and late a night during the week is an excellent approach when you are working from home. It helps remote workers stay away from the kitchen. When breakfast, lunch and dinner are already prepared, there is no need to head to the kitchen and spend lots of time there. So the excuse to walk towards the refrigerator or look in the cubbard is no longer a rationale urge.
The more you have prepared, the less tempted you will be to order home delivered meals or go out to restaurant to eat a high calorie meal. Further, when remote workers working from home prep their meals in advance, they are more likely to stick to a healthy diet.
Healthline argues that meal prepping saves time, reduces stress, improves meal quality and helps dieters reach and maintain healthy bodies.
Designated kitchen times – Even though remote work has increased our flexibility, it doesn’t mean that we can graze on food non stop. We aren’t farm animals. We must apply the same discipline and determination that it takes to get and excel in our remote positions to self care. A common mistake when working from home is feeling like you can walk into the kitchen at any time and eat something. Or munch on snacks non stop. Or even head to the freezer for the tempting spoon of ice creme. To prevent this, create a schedule. Establish designated kitchen breaks and meal times. This approach would be similar to the schedule you would adopt when you worked in a traditional office setting.
3. Developing Healthier Habits
Staying healthy while working from home isn’t about being on a diet or trying to be restrict yourself. It is about finding your balance. This starts with the development of healthy habits that will carry you well into old age.
Do you eat better when you have your workout first thing in the morning? Then you know this can be a wonderful healthy habit for you! Habits don’t have to feel like a chore or something you are forcing to do. It is very small changes in your day that make the difference.
Try working on your daily routines. From morning routines to what you do in the afternoon, you can change your routines in order to be healthier at home.
Get your family involved. Sometimes, what you need is to focus on the health of your family, not just yourself. Let your kids help with meal times, exercise with the family, and find family-focused activities to get you up and moving throughout the day.
4. Finding Your Health Motivation
We have given you a number of suggestions for staying healthy when working from home. But perhaps we should have started with identifying a motivating reason to do so.
So now we ask you, “What is the reason you want to be healthier while working from home?” This should be where you can start. Answering this question will motivate you to build the discipline and maintain the stamina needed to see this through. By the way, finding your motivation and creating a sense of urgency is not to just help with your health. It is to increase your happiness and wellbeing when you work home alone all day.
Research as shown that setting high but reasonablely realistic goals are associated with improved performance, persistance and motivation in comparison to those goals that are easier or somewhat hard to interpret. Here is what we would advise:
- Make a list of your motivators (look more attractive, reduction in chronic disease, longer life, greater mobility, return to a more vibrant version of you) for instance.
- Write these motivators in your journal or notebook.
- Write down five specific goals with milestones and anticipated dates of accomplishments.
- Establish Plan B for each of the goals in the event of a set back.
- Identify personal rewards and incentives for each milestone achieved.
This is important because it helps you understand yourself a little more, and find what is going to motivate you the most. There is no wrong answer here, except one where you aren’t being honest with yourself.
5. Creating a Healthy Morning Routine
To start working on your healthy habits at home, begin with your morning routine. Don’t worry about having a perfect routine or one that you get 100% right every day. Routines are simply a collection of activities you do around the same time each day.
Everything in your routine should serve some kind of purpose and be something you want to get done in the morning, or that will help you start your day on the right foot.
Benefits of the Morning Routine
Why have a morning routine? When you are working from home, you need some structure. Without a boss looking over your shoulder or co-workers to be accountable to, it requires a lot more self-motivation. This also includes your health journey while working from home.
Some benefits of having a morning routine include:
- Starting your day off with healthy habits
- Incorporating healthy habits into your routine
- Setting yourself up for the day
- Getting in exercise first thing in the morning
- Changing your mindset to a healthy, balanced one
6. Health Pitfalls to Avoid
Sometimes negative thinking can get in the way of success. Often it is easier to think that healthy habits are restrictive and can lead to a boring life. But that is not true. Actually it is the opposite. Here are some pitfalls to avoid when you are on a health and wellness journey:
Going on a restrictive diet – Many people think that to eat healthily, they need to be on a diet. But this is farthest from the truth! Change your mindset from the foods that you are missing or taking away from your diet to the good items (fruit, vegetables and healthy snacks) that you will be adding. What we hope that you do is that you should take on the attitude that you are adding healthy foods that will improve the nutrients, rise the positive energy levels, and fuel your body.
Focusing on the wrong things – Your health is your number one asset. Particularly as a remote worker and digital nomad. You work from home so that you can work from anywhere. This means you enjoy your mobility and flexibility. What happens when your health deteriorates? You can ‘t take advantage of the preferential features of remote work.
When we speak of your health, it comes down to how you feel, not what you think you should be doing. This goes for everything you do at home, from your physical activity and what you eat to the information you consume and what your routine looks like.
Feeling like you aren’t doing enough – Any small change you make or healthy habit you incorporate into your work-from-home life is going to improve your physical health and well-being. That should be all you need to know to feel good. And, believe it or not; it is enough.
7. Taking Regular Breaks
Taking work breaks, even when you tele-commute is important. Make sure you have a balanced work schedule throughout the day, including taking enough breaks. Think of your work-from-home schedule just like a schedule if you were in the office still. This includes a morning and afternoon break, and a lunch break! If you would get up every hour to move and stretch your body in the office, then you should be doing that now as well.
In fact, Michigan State University has conducted research to demonstrate that when workers fail to take their breaks, they can become burnt out faster and experience higher levels of stress. When workers take the breaks allowed by their employers, their productivity increases and they are more engaged. Added bonuses include increased levels of job satisfaction, mental health ande well being.
Do desk stretches – There are stretches you can do while sitting down or standing. Stretching gives you the chance to avert your gaze from your computer monitor and phone screen. When your regularly stretch your limbs (arms and legs) you also lower the chance of developing varicose veins or a blot clot.
Walk around – Also use your employer allowed breaks as a chance to get up and walk around your house or office space. Take this opportunity to glance out of the window, take in the rays of the sun or the UV rays of the snow or rain to reap nature’s healthy dose of Vitamin D.
Make adjustments – Do you feel like your neck is stiff or your back is hurting? You may be sitting incorrectly. Check the ergonomics of your workstation. Double check whether your posture and back supports are appropriate for working comfortably at a desk, counter, couch, or kitchen table. Look around your house for pillows to use to support your back or consider purchasing a few items here.
I have had some success with the mesh back support, see below but have also included these that colleagues have used.
8. Environmental Changes
The environment where you work at home can also make a big difference in your health and well-being. Here are some things you can change in your environment for your health:
Setting up your workspace – Make sure your workspace is set up for focus and productivity, including a desk or table that is comfortable, all the accessories you need to get work done, proper lighting, and a way to cancel out noise or distractions.
Having healthy resources at home – It is also good to have resources available to you at home to improve your health if this is a priority. This might be nutritious food and snacks, home workout accessories, or just some house plants in your office to get you in the healthy mindset.
Designated break areas – Taking a break at home is a little different from a traditional workplace, since you are already in your relaxing place. This is why having a designated workspace AND a designated place to take your breaks is so essential.
9. Your Work-Life Balance
Everyone needs a good work-life balance, whether you work from home or out of the home. But it tends to be a little more complicated when your home is also your office.
One of the best things you can do for your work-life balance when you work from home is to have a schedule that tells you when you start work, and when you stop. Avoid bringing your laptop to the couch or your bed to get work done before or after your work day is meant to begin.
This small change in addition to having a separate workspace will make a big difference in your work-life balance.
10. Are You Ready to Be Healthier?
Let’s summarize how to be healthier at home and make sure you are ready and on the right path.
Small habits for big changes – Remember that it is not about changing your entire life if you want to be healthier. Just choose some smaller habits, and working from home will benefit you greatly.
Find your motivation – What motivates YOU to be healthier might not motivate anyone else. Be honest with yourself about what you are trying to achieve.
Set health goals – Lastly, set some goals for yourself when it comes to your health. What are you trying to improve? What are you struggling with right now? The more specific your goals are, the easier they will be to achieve.