For many people, the shift from going into the office to working from home has been a good thing. There’s no commute. There’s potential to save money on gas, not to mention wear and tear on cars. And it’s just darn more convenient—you can put away dishes during a break or even, dare we say it, get in a quick catnap.
However, there can be drawbacks in terms of activity. It might not seem like that big of a deal, but those walks to and from the car with your co-workers during lunch, or even walking to the bathroom, which in some cases might have been all the way down the hall, add up to less opportunity to move, which over the course of time could be detrimental to your overall health.
“I am extremely concerned,” says Harinder Dhir, M.D., who works in the occupational medicine department and is the complementary and integrative health representative at Kaiser Permanente Roseville. “Humans are made to move. We were hunters and gatherers. If you don’t move your muscles, you are going to get atrophy or weakness.”
“Movement helps overall health, and in general, healthy people are able to fight off disease easier,” says Josh Stonier, co-owner of CrossFit Loco Ocho in Sacramento.
Regular exercise is good. We’ve got some suggestions for how to incorporate some of that into your daily telework life. We also provide ideas on simple ways you can incorporate more movement into your day.
Start your day with a sun salutation: “It physically and mentally energizes you and awakens your body,” says Dhir, who adds that you can do this classic series of yoga postures any time of day or even as a warm-up to your workout.
Stand up already: It seems like sit-stand or stand-up desks were just catching on when we were launched into the new normal. “Standing at your workstation provides an opportunity to squeeze in more movement as opposed to sitting all day,” says Stonier. Sit-stand risers can run you several hundred dollars, but if you work on a laptop computer, Stonier says you may be able to prop it up to get the height you need. “Get a couple of encyclopedias or books. Usually 10 or 12 inches above your standard desk height is enough. Just make sure it’s ergonomically comfortable,” says Stonier, who made it a point to “stand up until lunchtime” when he worked in an office. “Do it for an hour,” he says. “It’s better than nothing.” If the standing desk is not an option (or not appealing), consider setting your watch, fitness tracker or a good old-fashioned timer to alert you every 30 minutes or so to stand up and (bust a) move.
Become a manual laborer: Activities such as dusting the shelves, doing laundry, even cooking all get you up, moving and, for the most part, on your feet. “You should do as many daily activities as you can,” advises Dhir. “Work in the garden, clean the garage, even opening jars—that is your grip strength,” he says. Stonier agrees. “It doesn’t have to be fancy. It does not need to be flashy,” he says. “It can be as easy as raking the leaves.”
Master the stairs: Clearly, this is not an option for everyone, but if you live in a two-story dwelling, those stairs might be your movement messiah. “I moved my home office from the kitchen counter/kitchen table to my son’s room, which is upstairs at the far end of the house,” says Margo Fowkes, who runs her own consulting business from her home in Loomis. “Every time I want coffee or a snack, I have to go up and down the stairs.” Nikki Patel, an accountant who works from home in Sacramento, also uses the stairs to her advantage. “I must go up and down the stairs at least 20 times a day, grabbing tea, a snack, letting the dog out, etc.,” says Patel. Want to take it up a notch? “Carry something up and down the stairs, or try skipping a step for more of a lunge uphill,” says Stonier. Or do like Dhir and run up the stairs. (OK, let’s not get too crazy now.)
Don’t be idle: Dhir does squats while brushing his teeth. “I just make it a routine,” he says. Patel incorporates them, too. “I do squats when I’m talking on the phone or do sun salutations when I need to stretch, which I would never have done at the office,” says Patel. “I feel like I’m moving more now than I did when I worked at the office.” Barry Pitluk, a sales manager who works out of his home in Sacramento, jogs in place while on the phone or watching TV. “Yes, I do jog in place while in a meeting,” he admits.
Involve the kids: With many school-age children distance learning at least part of the time, finding time to work out can be a challenge—unless you involve the kids. “Kids love doing burpees or even squats or anything imitating what their parents do,” says Stonier. “We have a number of clients whose kids joined in our Zoom workouts last summer and it was a lot of fun for everyone. All parents were stoked and excited to share that experience with their littles.” Another reason to involve the kids: You are modeling good behavior. “Our children are watching,” Stonier reminds us. “This is an opportunity to inspire, motivate and teach our next generation to be strong and healthy human beings.”
Have fur children? Get them involved, too. Don’t just stand there during a game of fetch; get running. We know one local woman who runs up and down the stairs with a laser pointer in an effort to get her overweight cat to shed some pounds. (Truth be told: The woman is running more than the fat cat.)
Challenge yourself—whatever that means to you: Experts such as Stonier hesitate to prescribe catchall workouts without knowing the health background and abilities of the parties involved, but challenging yourself in some capacity—after getting clearance from your doctor, Dhir notes—is good for you. “Try to get yourself out of breath once a day,” says Stonier. “Try to break out into a sweat once a day.” He also suggests testing yourself: “Can you touch your toes? Can you touch your big toe to your nose? Can you reach to the top shelf with both arms? Can you squat in a chair without using the arm handles?”
Find a fitness buddy: Remember that friend at the office? The one you always took your morning break with to get coffee or walk around the block? Just because you are no longer at the office together does not mean you can’t still motivate each other. “Set yourself a challenge,” says Stonier. “‘Did you get your squats in today?’”
Katie Kite-Arba, a K-8 school counselor who works from her home in Sacramento, joined a women’s accountability group that her friend, fitness trainer Taylor Nicole, set up. Together, they completed a six-week challenge, meeting as a group via Zoom once a week. “There were about 10 of us from all over the U.S.,” says Kite-Arba. “During the Zoom sessions, we talked about our challenges and triumphs for the week.”
Dance—because no one’s watching: Dhir puts on some music—anything from the ’50s through the ’80s—and starts dancing. “I’m not a good dancer,” he admits, but that doesn’t stop him. “You just dance for 10 minutes and it feels so good.” Dancing might not be your thing, but you get the picture: Do something you like. As Dhir points out: “You don’t have to get on a treadmill.”
Breathe: OK, breathing might not be movement per se, but “breathing is important,” says Dhir, who recommends alternate nostril breathing, a yogic breath-control practice. “Research shows that it increases heart rate variability,” he says. The higher your HRV, which is the measure of time variations between heartbeats, the healthier you are.
Invest in some home equipment—or not: Sure, you can set up you own mini gym in your home to the tune of a few thousand dollars, but if that is not in the budget, buying a few simple items will do the trick. Dhir recommends a yoga mat, dumbbells/hand grips, foam roller, exercise ball, resistance bands and maybe a bar for pull-ups. If even that seems out of the budget, don’t forget the power of your own body weight—pushups, wall sits and the aforementioned squats are all good activities. Stonier recommends getting creative. “Fill up a backpack with books or rocks, or cart around a gallon of water,” he says. “A gallon of liquid weighs eight pounds.”
Keep the big picture in mind: There might not be much to plan for right now, but that is going to change, and you’ll want to be ready for it. “Part of my job is to try to inspire people to make the change for themselves and to stay on it so that they can go outside and enjoy life,” says Stonier. “The goal isn’t to excel at the gym; the goal is to live life and enjoy things. We weren’t meant to sit at a computer all day. We need to move.”