Staying Healthy When You Work From Home – 5 tips
In September, we wrote about some of the problems faced by those who run a business from their home. We discussed such issues as: maintaining a work/life balance, avoiding distractions from family, and establishing a designated work space. However, assuming you now have all that covered (?), there remains another issue that is particularly pertinent to those working from home and arguably to all entrepreneurs, who by nature tend to be workaholics. Whether your home is your workplace, or whether you have an actual office/shop front where you conduct your business, your health and wellbeing – mental, as well as physical – are supremely important.
So, how can you assure that you stay physically and mentally on top of your game and that your health and fitness don’t get overlooked?
- Schedule regular breaks in your work day, no matter how short.
If most of your time is spent looking at screens, then it’s vital for your optical health that you glance away from the screen at regular intervals – and stare into the distance for at least 20 seconds. We know that too much screen time is potentially damaging to our eyes, so this is an important habit to cultivate.
A good guide is to look into the distance (at least 20 feet away) for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. If it helps, set a timer to go off at 20-minute intervals. This one is an easy fix once you’ve established the habit and requires only one minute per hour!
Similar short breaks should be incorporated in other ways too. At least once an hour – more frequently if feasible – get up and take a short walk. This could be combined with a bathroom break, making a drink or (healthy!) snack, or just talking to colleagues, if you have them. Work from home, entirely alone? Just take a quick walk around the room – if you can walk, or even run, up a flight of stairs on one or more of these breaks, so much the better! Sitting has been proven to be deleterious to our health and fitness levels in a number of ways. If you’re really concerned about this, experiment with a standing desk – or rig up a way (a pile of large books may do) to raise the level of your computer for half an hour or so every so often throughout the day.
People who work outside of the home, for a boss, generally get scheduled breaks – at the very least for lunch, and often also for coffee. Just because you work from home it doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to the same breaks. Use a coffee break to also do a few quick yoga stretches – there’s no one to see you, after all. Insist on taking a longer lunch break (45 minutes at least) and try to get outside for a quick walk during at least part of this time.
2. Exercise at your desk
Pouring with rain outside? Cold and icy? So hot and humid that a walk outside would reduce to a sweaty mess? The weather and climate don’t always cooperate! If you really can’t manage a walk outside during the abovementioned lunch break, then get creative about working out in situ.
- Keep an exercise ball near your desk. Some people actually sit on one while working – it improves posture and back health, maybe even tones abs? Alternatively use it to do a few exercises during your short breaks.
- Almost anything can provide a quick workout: a yoga mat, a jump rope, small weights, etc.
- If you have back problems, and spend most of the day seated at your desk, consider investing in one of the many back-friendly chairs out there.
- Don’t forget your hands. Keep some small weights in your work space and use them to exercise your wrists to prevent repetitive strain injuries.
3. Remember your mental health
If you work from home, alone, it’s all too easy to spend an entire day without meeting or talking to a soul, except by phone. Make a point of leaving the house and meeting people at some point each day. If this means walking to your local grocery store and exchanging pleasantries with the check-out person, fine! Alternatively, make time for a quick coffee in your local cafe, visit your library, or, weather permitting, take a quick walk to the nearest park. Your objectives here are threefold: fresh air, interacting with other people, and getting a little exercise – it’s a win-win!
It may sound like time away from your project that you can’t really afford but your health is paramount; if it fails you, you won’t be able to work anyway!
Also, consider setting aside half an hour or so to read a magazine article, or a chapter of your latest book (discipline is definitely required here!) – anything to divert your brain from what you’re currently working on/worrying about.
As aforementioned, if yoga stretches are part of your ‘in situ’ exercise program, awesome – just remember your yoga breathing and the mindfulness and meditative aspects of yoga practice.
4. Maximize the advantages of being your own boss
Working for yourself generally means flexibility in working hours. Yes, this may mean that you start your working day in your pjs (though it’s not really the best idea) or that you also work into the evening or on weekends. However one upside is that you can schedule errands and appointments during what are usually considered business hours. During spring, summer and fall, (winter too if conditions out are reasonable) I try to divide my errands up throughout the week, and get one errand accomplished each day. If this involves going somewhere within walking distance – and I try to arrange it that way – then I’ve not only achieved the non-work-related errand, I’ve also factored in some exercise, fresh air and interaction with people (see tip #3) – all in one go. The benefits of this make it definitely worth working into the evening, if needs be, to make up the time. (Just avoid working on a computer or phone in the hour or so before bed, to ensure good sleep quality!)
5. Schedule fitness classes, dental and eye exams and doctor’s visits into your calendar.
It’s all too easy to neglect the less pleasant appointments, dental check-ups, and, yes – let’s be honest – gym visits or aerobics classes, no matter where our workplace is. The busier we get, the easier it is to postpone these.
- Schedule two or three gym workouts/aerobics class/spinning class/yoga practice outside of your home each week. Too much of a time commitment? Yes – and no! This one does require time, admittedly, but your physical wellbeing benefits hugely from exercise. The local gym may be pretty busy in the early evening after ‘work’. You can likely get in a shortish workout at other times of the day when it’s much quieter. A yoga class once a week is well worth the hour and a half plus (yes, I know…) that you will need for it. Find a workout routine that you enjoy, look at the schedules and then write them in your calendar. Schedule them as you would a business meeting or deadline. Devoting just four or five hours a week to moderately strenuous exercise will pay you back in spades in terms of fitness.
- Keep a regular routine for doctor/dental check-ups. If you’re otherwise pretty healthy, then this may just involve two dental check-ups a year and one physical exam. Plan these in advance and use the luxury of being your own boss to schedule them for times when your business is less busy.
Still don’t think you can afford the time for any of this? Keeping fit and staying on top of health goals can be challenging whatever your work situation. If you’re on your own and trying to keep several plates spinning with your enterprise, it can seem overwhelming. But maintaining physical and mental fitness isn’t a luxury, in fact, it needs to be a priority. Can you afford to lose a week or more of work for a health issue? Do you want to run the risk of having to devote half a day to an emergency dental appointment, possibly in the middle of a major project, because you “didn’t have time” to schedule in check-ups? Besides, keeping physically and mentally fit will actually improve your productivity. A recent experiment by Microsoft Japan showed that productivity increased by 40% when employees were given a four-day work week and similar experiments in other countries have had similar results.
Staying on top of your fitness is as essential to your health and wellbeing as showering, brushing your teeth or getting enough sleep – and you wouldn’t resent the time you spend on your hygiene or sleep, would you?