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How to get more activity in your day while working from home

If you’re embracing remote work long term, you need to find ways to keep from being too sedentary.

How to get more activity in your day while working from home
[Photo: Prostock-Studio/iStock]
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It’s been a little over a year since many of us made the switch to working from home. In that time, it’s likely that your daily routine has changed significantly compared to when you would make the trip into the office every day.

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For starters, you’re probably not getting anywhere near as much physical activity as you used to. Even if you make a point of exercising a few times per week, you’ve likely still seen a significant dip in your non-exercise physical activity, what we call “NEPA” in the health and fitness industry. NEPA is the physical activity that happens as a natural part of going about your daily routine. We’re talking about activities like walking, whether that be all the way to the office, down to the bus stop, or just to the car parked in your driveway. Even something as simple as walking across the office to ask your coworker a question, grab a snack from the break room, or to use the restroom adds up. With the rise of WFH, it’s likely very few of these activities are still a part of your daily routine. Our commutes have become walking from our bed to our computer; we connect with our coworkers via telephone or a Zoom link, and our kitchens and restrooms are usually only a few short steps away from our computer at home.

So, what are we doing instead of all that NEPA? For the most part, we’re sitting. Sitting in front of the computer, on the couch, or at a table. Even for those of us who previously spent most of our days sitting at a desk, we’re now spending even more time sitting, simply because there are so few tasks that require us to get up and move around.

This has a number of implications for our physical health and our fitness. Lots of sitting typically results in what’s called upper and lower crossed syndrome (a fancy term for bad posture) which is often accompanied by stiff hips, back, neck, and shoulders. It can even cause tension headaches, which are no fun at all. The loss of all of that low-intensity NEPA also means that our bodies become less efficient at burning fat, since fat is the primary fuel source for low-intensity activity. In short, it’s likely that our bodies ache in a number of different places and that we’re gaining body fat as a result of working from home.

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None of this means that all hope is lost. It just means that we need to be a little more deliberate about our daily physical activity, both of the exercise and non-exercise varieties. Integrating more physical movement can be a simple matter of setting a step goal for the day and using an activity tracker to help you track your progress. It could also be something like setting a reminder on your phone or desktop to stand up, walk around, and do a few stretches once every hour. Personally, I make a point of going for a 30-minute walk every day in order to get some steps in as well as some fresh air.

Try to focus on movements that help to restore and maintain proper posture, as well as building lean muscle mass to keep your metabolism going.

In terms of exercise, try to focus on movements that help to restore and maintain proper posture, as well as building lean muscle mass to keep your metabolism going. In order to ensure that you’re performing the exercises correctly and in a way that will actually help restore or maintain proper posture and positioning, I always recommend enlisting the help of a qualified personal trainer who can provide you with immediate feedback in the moment.

If you’re looking for a few low-barrier moves you can try at home with minimal equipment, here are some of my favorite exercises to counteract the effects of too much sitting:

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Glute bridges

  • Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, squeeze your glutes hard. The first thing you should feel happen when you do this is your pelvis tilt back and your low back press against the floor.
  • Keep squeezing your glutes, allowing your hips to rise off the floor until your hips are straight. Lower your hips back down to the floor under control.
  • Do 10 reps.

Wall arm slides

  • Standing facing away from the wall, place your heels about 1 foot length away from the wall and your hips and shoulders against the wall.
  • From here, brace your core to press your lower back against the wall. Slide your arms as high up the wall as possible while keeping your wrists and elbows as close to the wall as possible, without letting your lower back leave the wall.
  • Do 10 reps.

The “world’s greatest stretch”

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  • Starting in a push-up position, step your right foot forward and place it outside your right hand.
  • From there reach your right hand up toward the ceiling, following your hand with your eyes and rotating through your upper/mid back. Return to the starting position and repeat on the left side.
  • Do 10 reps on each side.

Band pull-aparts

  • Hold a resistance band at arm’s length in front of you with a double overhand grip. With a bit of tension on the band to start, take your hands as far away from each other as you can while keeping your shoulders away from your ears.
  • Return to the starting position under control. You should feel your shoulder blades gliding on your rib cage as you do this: Your shoulder blades should come together as your hands separate and your shoulder blades should separate as you return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 10-20 reps.

Lunges

  • Starting in a half-kneeling position (one knee down and one foot forward) with a proud posture, drive through both feet and use your front leg to “pull” yourself forward as you come up to a standing position.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top. Return to the starting position under control and stop just before your knee touches the ground.
  • Repeat for 10 reps before switching to the other side.

These exercises are designed to strengthen muscles that don’t get much use when working from home, while easing any built-up tension or soreness that can result from long hours sinking into your couch or seated stiffly at a desk.

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Curtis Christopherson is founder and CEO of WRKOUT, an online fitness company delivering live and face-to-face personal training. Curtis leads over 300 virtual and in-person trainers and was recognized as “Canada’s Top Trainer” in 2020 by Impact Magazine.