May 7, 2020


Working from home: simple tips for looking after your physical health

THE COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS have forced a lot of us into home office set-ups which are less than ideal but which, we know, are necessary. A lot of days now are spent working from home with limited movement or activity which can take its toll on our physical and mental health.

Over the last six weeks I have found myself sitting down using screens and devices more than ever. From writing articles, adding to my website, checking in with clients online or even just sending out program emails — and that’s just work related. On top of that add in time to catch up with friends and family via WhatsApp, Zoom and Facetime, or even just sitting down in the evening and switching off with some Netflix.

If you’re experiencing some sort of joint or muscle discomfort the past while, it’s not uncommon. For me, it has been a tight low back and from hearing from others it could be anything from strains on our eyes, neck, shoulders or knees — all the common areas from being in the same position looking at a screen day in day out for long periods.

Here’s some advice on how to work from home effectively while looking after your body.

Set up the work day in advance

The first step should be to have an area in the home that is solely for work and make a plan that is best for you. Take a look at the day ahead and set out a structure that is work related and then, away from work, home related. Try to avoid bouncing between both during the day if you are busy. This might mean getting up earlier to get through some house tasks, or even just to plan them, before the work day kicks in.

Have an area in the house that is suitable to work from. For a lot of us this is challenging right now but do the best you can. If you end up neglecting planning this, its only going to lead to work-related stress, poor posture, or even issues with your mobility down the line. Back pain is caused by work-related stress as well as work-related physical factors.

Simple tips for a home office set up include:

  • Try to alternate between sitting and standing
  • Your eyes should be level with the top of your screen
  • Your hips should be flexed between 90 to 110 degrees if you are sitting
  • Try to support the lower part of your back if you are sitting to help prevent fatigue
  • Your feet should be flat on the floor
  • Take regular breaks

Keep the day structured and stick to the times that you are generally used to. Take regular breaks and stick to a plan on when to finish up from the work space until the following day. In this isolation environment when everyone’s working from home, it’s very easy to fall into the habit of doing an extra two or three hours a day; I would advise against this from a stress and wellbeing point of view.

Make some time to move during the day

During this time movement is key, even in isolation and even more so while working from home. During your working hours, try to get up and away from the screens every hour or two — if only briefly — to move around, stretch or change position. Try a stand-up desk for parts of the day, take that lunch break, come away from your work space, move, stretch, get outside or even just drink some water. These are small bits of advice that we all know but implementing them and sticking to them is the key to looking after the health of your body.

Keep your workouts smart and varied

By now, plenty of us are seeing the importance of exercise right now as it boosts our physical and mental health during this time. Over the last few weeks its really amazing to see the amount of people exercising. From people getting their daily walk ,people doing the online 5k challenge, or others just turning part of their home into a workout area as they stream in a online workout.

My advice here is:

  • Firstly, do what you enjoy. It might be the only enjoyable outlet we have in our day so avoid making this a chore
  • Add in some variance to avoid boredom
  • Do the right exercise that is going to give your body the most benefit. Certain core, strength and stretching-based workouts are a brilliant way to strengthen muscles and protect your back. It’s a time where we are seeing plenty of fitness challenges bombarding our social media feeds but be wary what you go for. Sitting at a makeshift desk for a long day and then hammering out 300 burpees might not be the best idea for your back

Incorporate some time for body maintenance

Mobility work isn’t generally seen as cool and a lot of the time you won’t see the fitness industry focus on this. It’s an area that most people neglect as some don’t see the importance of it while others don’t know what to do.

By now a lot of us can find that little bit of extra free time in the day. I suggest doing 15 minutes of daily body maintenance, especially if you find yourself in poor positions for long extended periods of the day.

Mobility tools like resistance bands, foam rollers and lacrosse balls are all super pieces of equipment to have. Simple exercises like foam rolling, banded pull-aparts, x-band walks, or doing basic body weight stretches like the couch stretch and pigeon stretch will help keep you on top of the areas that need attention.

Here are 5 simple tools that will come in handy for you and that could be easily added to your day over the next few weeks working from home.

Source: David Last/YouTube

Slow down and switch off towards the end of the day

We know that long periods of screentime are not ideal for our overall physical and mental health. From tension in our necks, rounding our shoulders and back, to putting extra strain on our eyes as we sit and stare into our devices. They are key for certain periods of our day, however. It’s how a lot of us working with colleagues, a way to keep the kids entertained, or even to socially connect with friends and family after a long day at work.

Try to limit usage particularity after a long working day if you have been switched on. If you do find yourself working and looking into screens for long periods, then try:

  • Look at something in the distance every 30 minutes or so
  • Remind yourself to blink regularly
  • Use a headset or earphones for calls. This will allow you to get up and walk around

As well as that, try to limit the screen time as you get closer to bedtime and perhaps use other ways of engaging the mind or winding down. Simple steps for the body and mind after a long working day could be:

  • Reading a book
  • Meditation or yoga
  • Go for an evening walk
  • Doing some breathing exercises
  • Play with your kids
  • Have a Epsom salts bath

David Last is a personal trainer based in Dublin. For more information, you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Or you can send him a direct message here.

You can also see some of his previous articles here.