As if us remote workers don’t have enough to feel badly about. Besides the common feelings of isolation, due to the pandemic, perhaps you’ve recently heard that “Sitting is the new smoking”. And although, upon closer inspection, we see that sitting is not as bad for our health as smoking (nor as enjoyable, as any smoker may sheepishly let you know) the effect of long hours of sitting is something that can take a toll on our health. The good news is that it's not difficult to counter most of the effects of our excessive sitting, giving us access to better physical and mental health.
The recent switch for many desk workers to working from home has led to us becoming less active in our daily lives. Today many of us find that without a commute, and fewer activities away from home, we’ve become noticeably more sedentary in the last year and a half. In fact, sitting appears to be the position we are in for the majority of our time awake. With no commute, and our desks beckoning us to sit and work we’re moving a lot less these days.
It’s been shown that movement and exercise are effective ways to boost cognitive health, and make us more effective at our work. Even just a little movement can counter the effects of too much sitting. But with our unstructured days how can we get this exercise in effectively?
You’ll be happy to hear that you don’t need to undertake a daunting fitness plan, nor train for an Iron Man, to get the benefits of exercise and counter the effects of too much sitting. Recent studies have shown that even short bursts of exercise can have a positive impact on both our fitness levels and cognitive functioning.
So how can we get some movement in during our workday?
1. Wear your workout clothes for your workday
Start by wearing your workout clothes at your desk. If you need to appear professionally dressed for video conferences wearing workout bottoms with a more professional top will help to allow for movement during your day. Putting on workout clothes can be a subliminal message to ourselves to move more as well. Afraid you might get sweaty? Well with short bursts of exercise, it likely won’t be much. Maybe you’ll begin to feel a bit flushed, but who cares, nobody is around to notice, right? And it’s you who will be feeling better from the movement, so no need to worry what others will think.
According to this New York Times article, for every thirty minutes of sitting we should counter the effects with three minutes of movement. Other than remembering to do this, it’s really not too difficult to do.
2. Go find a quick task to accomplish
A quick task such cleaning some dishes, watering your plants, or organizing a drawer can bring our minds away from work for a short break and leave us feeling like we’ve accomplished a small win while simultaneously adding in the movement we’re aiming for. Three minutes will go by without much thought. Accomplishing microtasks have been shown to give us pleasure, which can help us to form habits to naturally begin moving more as part of our workday.
3. Get a Standing Desk
If working from home is the way of the future it may be worth investing in a standing desk. These adjustable height desks are a wonderful way to enable you to work comfortably at your machine while standing, and some also offer the option to use a treadmill underneath. Adjusting the height of the desks is a simple and holding down a button. The desk height changes in moments. By storing your preferred heights for sitting, standing or other tasks, switching your desk height during the day is extremely simple taking little effort. These desks can also remind you to stand every so often.
4. Attend your Meetings Standing
Even without a standing desk you could still find a way to elevate your camera for Zoom meetings. Use a bookshelf or place your camera upon a stack boxes. Standing will even help you stay more alert during those long drawn-out meetings. If you can sneak away from the camera you could throw some air squats in too. Just be sure to mute your microphone first. Get a set of bluetooth headphones so that you’re not tethered to your computer. Whatever you can do to help you move a little more will be beneficial.
5. Use Stairs
Have a set of stairs nearby? Ascending a case of stairs several times in an easy and quick way to get a burst of movement in. Just a few minutes of walking or running up and down the stairs will get your heart pumping, and it won’t be long before you’ll be ready to sit back down and work again.
6. Have a Power Lunch
No, no, not the liquid kind of power lunch, (though once in a while that can be a nice break too). Instead break up the monotony of your day by taking an online fitness class. If the pandemic brought about any positives, one of them is that there are a lot more fitness activities available online. MindBody.com offers access to many live classes online throughout the day. Other sites such as practyce.com or Apple Fitness+ offer access to hundreds of classes that can be streamed, so you can attend whenever is convenient for you. You don’t even need to use your entire break as there are many shorter HIIT, and yoga classes which can be completed in under thirty minutes.
7. Bodyweight Exercises
Incorporate body weight exercises into your working habits. Bodyweight exercises require no equipment, although a simple mat may make them more comfortable. Body weight exercises can be done barefoot or with sneakers. So how to start doing them? Well there’s not much to it, besides learning the proper form. To perform squats, for example, you just stand where you have some space and squat up and down repeatedly. If you have some weights at home you could make the movements more physically challenging, however with heavier weights, it’s recommended to warm up and acclimate your muscles, instead of just picking up a heavy weight and squatting.
8. Make a Game of Completing Short Bursts of Movement
If you need a little more motivation to move then make a game of it. Set a goal to take a few short movement breaks during your workday. To help you see your progress and feel better about adding in these breaks each time you finish one, mark it off in some way, so at the end of the day you can see your progress. There are plenty of apps that can help us organize and give attention to the tasks we’d like to accomplish during our day. If you have enough apps, as many of us do, set a better visual reminder to move by using a whiteboard. If you can see this whiteboard from your work place you’ll be more inclined to make an effort to check off those boxes each day. Again it does not need to be a big goal, just remembering to get up and walk around for a few minutes will help counter some of your time spent sitting. Small tasks, when recognized, can help us feel more motivated to continue, and when we find something enjoyable and easy to do, it doesn’t take long to make it into a habit.
With just a little effort you’ll find that you can create a little structure around your workday to incorporate more movement, leading to you feeling better, and working more productively. And who among us would not want a little mental boost to each of our days?