As many of us approach the one-year anniversary of working from home (WFH), we’ve got a lot to reflect on. If in the past year, you’ve avoided getting COVID, kept your job, and been able to work from the safety of your own home, hopefully, you appreciate your luck.
In addition to your gratitude, you may also be feeling some of the many physical and mental health side effects associated with enforced WFH such as Zoom headaches, quarantine 15, insomnia, and anxiety.
Fortunately, there’s a simple solution: take a break and move.
Even pre-pandemic, inactivity was a serious problem. “Strong evidence shows that physical inactivity increases the risk of many adverse health conditions, including major non-communicable diseases such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancers, and shortens life expectancy,” according to research published in The Lancet.
Inactivity has been exacerbated by enforced WFH. For many, there’s no more commute, going to get lunch, walking between meetings, chats in the common spaces, or any of the other movement opportunities we had when working in an office. Lockdown restrictions have led to “reductions in physical activity… [and] a deterioration of muscle mass…” according to a new study published in GeroScience.
For those of us who are still WFH, there’s never been a better time to take a break and move. It’s a great way to ease and prevent many of the side effects associated with WFH. Here’s what to do:
Working from home means working more hours for many people. Research from the Harvard Business School and New York University shows that COVID-enforced WFH increased the average workday by almost an hour.
One of the best ways to reclaim some work/life balance during this difficult time is to schedule breaks into your workday, including a hard stop for the day’s end. Scheduling your breaks so that they become a regular part of your day will ensure that the time doesn’t slip away to some other task.
This can include starting the day with a pretend commute. Walking around the block before you start your day or any other time has many benefits, including boosting creativity. Research from Stanford University shows that walking boosts creative output by 60 percent.
Studies show that small sessions of movement can have significant benefits for both physical and mental health. Short chunks of activity peppered throughout your workday will give you the most benefit. Even one small activity break can help reduce blood pressure, improve sleep, lessen anxiety, and boost cognitive function.
The movement you choose doesn’t have to be strenuous, e.g., make the bed, take the dog for a walk, or turn up the radio and dance for five minutes. All movement helps; don’t worry too much about it being ‘exercise’.
If you can get outside while you move, it’s even more beneficial. Studies show that taking a break in nature – even simply looking at a green space – can improve concentration, reduce stress, and boost productivity.
Working from home during COVID has put many workers at increased risk of suffering musculoskeletal injuries due to poorly set up workstations, according to new research from the University of Cincinnati.
It’s another reason why it’s so important to take breaks. Time off from typing, mousing, and scrolling helps reduce your chance of injury caused by these constant micro-movements. Moving during your break gives the muscles you use to do these activities a chance to rest while giving your inactive muscles a little workout.
So, make sure that some of your breaks allow you to get up, change position, and move away from screens, including your phone.
Every break you take to move during the workday will help protect your health and ease any symptoms you may be experiencing from a year of WFH. If you develop the habit now, you can take it with you when you go back to the office.
Raquel Baetz delivers virtual home workstation assessments, including proper ergonomic set up, mindful use of the body, and the importance of integrating regular movement breaks into the workday. She is an ergonomic workstation risk assessor via the British Safety Council, yoga teacher, and teacher-in-training of the Alexander Technique. Follow Raquel on Twitter @RaquelBaetz