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Our Best Tips For Remaining Healthy If You Work From Home

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 07 July 2020
Hits: 3178

With COVID-19 lock-downs throwing many organisations into adopting work from home practises, we have seen a massive shift in the time spent at home versus being in the office. And it is highly likely that working from home is here to stay for a long time for many corporate occupations and something we may have to get used to. Whether you've been working from home for years, or are just getting started, it's not as easy and fun as you one might think. While there is certainly some great advantages to working from home, there is also many challenges that this new working arrangement may pose to our health both physically and mentally. In this article I am going to share with you some incredible statistics and insights from various studies exploring these issues, and help you avoid the hidden dangers to your health if you are working from home.

The picture above is a classic example of the person today who works from home, completely oblivious to the potential danger these horrible sitting positions cause to your body. This working position is the perfect recipe for a bulging disc or chronic neck pain and something you must be very careful of adopting.

Like many people I always thought it would be so much fun and a lot easier to work from home. You can put your music on in the background, there is no distractions, you have instant access to your favourite foods, and best of all no time being stuck in traffic driving to and from the office. However, there is many things I did not realize would be an issue and this was something I had to get used to over the years. One of the biggest problems for me was keeping work separate from home life as it feels like your work takes over your home. I had to be keep my work stuff confined to a specific room away from all my home life so that I could relax and get away.

The other problem I encountered was stiffness with my hips and my neck from working on dining tables and in lounge rooms. At first I did not notice any change but after a few months I found little niggling injuries creeping into my training that I had never had before. The only thing that I had changed was my new working arrangement. After some trial and error I found it was better to use a desktop computer where my chair and computer could be set up was perfectly, just like I would have at the office. I also made an effort to avoid using laptops or tablets that very easily ruined my posture.

In recent months I have had many Zoom training sessions with people overseas who were now working from home. Most of these people contacted me for help with postural problems that only started since the lock-downs in March. The common areas of pain were with the lower back, neck, and hip. The common denominator with all these problems is that they were all now working from home.

Social distancing measures means many are now working from home, with latest research from Mccrindle suggesting almost three in five Australians (58%) have a job that allows them to do so. And even more interesting is that they found in their surveys that 78% of Australians agree that working from home will become the new normal 76 %and would stay longer with their employer if they were offered more remote working or flexible working options.

I am not sure of the statistics in other countries but I imagine it would be very similar.

While working from home was necessary during the COVID-19 lock-downs and also has many benefits, it does present some challenges to your health that many people are not aware of. Before we look at the health problems in more detail, what are the benefits that many people reported?

What Are The Benefits of Working From Home?

The researchers found the most significant advantage in working from home for most people was having the flexibility to juggle other things. Another quarter of respondents felt that in working from home, they were able to create a work-life balance to enjoy life more. This is something that cannot be overstated as I am sure you would agree the stress from work and the hours we all spend there can take a toll on our life. Finding a work-life balance is something that has been discussed for a long time by many people but interesting the research discovered that only 25% of people found it was better!

Being able to work undistracted or being able to take care of their children were other key factors that were reported.

Below is a graph that shows the statistics of the survey.

 With many of the clients I have spoken to who are working from home instead of in the office, they informed me that they loved being able to go outside for a walk during the day or squeeze in a home workout when their energy was at its best. I suppose this is something that might have been put in the flexibility to juggle other things column. With the people I spoke to lack of commuting saved them so much time that it allowed them to fit in some exercise without taking up any of their work time.

While many enjoyed the flexibility at the beginning, there was a large number of people looking forward to going back into the office to work as there were several things they did not enjoy.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Working From Home?

While it is clear there are some benefits to working from home there are some problems associated with this and over the past few weeks I have begun to see the effects of these coming through. Some of the statistics were quite interesting.

The biggest negative that workers faced in working from home, reported by 22% of respondents, was professional and social isolation. Here is some of the quotes reported in the study.

  • “Working on my own and only seeing friends and workmates occasionally.”
  • “Not having other employees to sound ideas and brainstorm with.”
  • “I am isolated and lonely at times, and do less networking.”

The impact the COVID-19 lock-downs has had to our mental health has been well documented and for many people going to work was actually a great way for them to build social connections to help get through difficult times. This is also why exercise is extremely important for our mental state.

 

Something that I found very interesting was that there some people that found maintaining a work-life balance was WORSE when working from home! According to 15% of respondents:

  • “There are no boundaries between home and work life.”
  • “I can’t relax because I know there is work to do. It’s hard to stop.”
  • “Being on call – people seem to think you are available at any time, including your days off.”

Household distractions were another common thread, reported as most significant by 14% of respondents:

  • “I am too easily distracted by household tasks.”
  • “I find it difficult to get into the mindset of ‘working’ at home without distractions.”
  • “The environment is not conducive to working.”

But by far the biggest problems that I have been confronted with when talking to people working from home is the rapid rise of postural injuries and chronic pain.

In the research by mccrindle this was also noted as a main concern with regards to workplace health and safety as the respondents found the lack of ergonomics and inadequate equipment in their home office set-up was causing problems:

  • “I generally don’t sit at a proper desk so, while not currently causing any problems, my posture may cause issues in the future.”
  • “I don’t have proper desk and chair height, and I stay at the desk too long with bad posture.”

Last but not least we need to address the problem of weight gain and poor nutrition choices. In our recent article “How to go from Zero to Hero with your fitness”, we reported statistics relating to the alarming trend of people gaining weight during the COVID-19 lockdowns. A poll of more than 1,000 U.S. readers of WebMD, nearly half of the women and almost one-quarter of the men said they'd gained weight “due to COVID restrictions.” A separate poll of 900 international readers found more than half of men and about a third of women reporting weight gain.

It is really easy to reach for snacks all day long that not only ruin your energy and concentration for your job but wreak havoc on your waistline and health. This is a massive topic on its own and I suggest to read the article - The 7 Meal Planning Tips To Improve Your Health to see how to structure your day and your home office to avoid the temptations that so easily ruin your best intentions.

There are several things we need to address for the office worker or person who sits all day which may include truck drivers and various other occupations that require endless sitting. Let's take a quick look at the things you can do.

How to Maintain Your Health If You Sit All Day

Firstly it is important to understand exactly how to sit correctly. I know this sounds easy but it is amazing how many people do not know how to sit in the correct position.

Watch the video below that explains how to sit correctly to avoid hip and lower back pain. This relates to ALL jobs that require you to sit.

 

Many are aware of the dangers to the spine from lifting things poorly but what is not common knowledge is the damage to our spine and discs from sitting. The spine is a strong, durable and yet flexible structure designed not only to transmit force but also allow a whole heap of movements in all planes of motion.

However, when the amount of these forces exceed the spine’s capability to withstand being squashed by various postures we repetitively adopt, or the dysfunctional way that we move, you will find pain is not far away. Bulging disc injuries are extremely common and affect people of all ages.

Sustaining a slouching or forward bending of your spine leads to overstretching and weakness of the posterior fibrocartilage (or annulus) of the spinal discs. Over time, this leads to poor disc integrity and displacement of the disc nucleus fluid posteriorly. This places your spinal joints and nerves under pain-causing pressure.

 

It is easy to fall into the trap of slouching and as it becomes a habit we do not even realize what we are doing. The biggest mistake I see is where people fall into a POSTERIOR TILT of the pelvis where the butt rolls underneath and they round out their spine. This leads to what is known as “BUTT GRIPPING” and can become a very serious chronic condition that can be very hard to get rid of.

The very first thing you need to do is move your butt back into the corner of the chair and ANTERIORLY TILT your pelvis so you can maintain an optimal position of the spine and hip. Some people may find this very tiring as the muscles required to do this may be very weak. Using a lumbar roll to sit in the curve of your spine may be very useful here as well as taking breaks by standing up or even kneeling on the floor every 10 minutes to give your muscles a rest.

Make sure you read the article - How much compression on the spine is caused by sitting to see the full breakdown of various positions.

Setting Up Your Workstation Correctly

This is one area where people notice a big problem that is not easily fixed. Obviously the home is far from ideal as a working environment as it was not designed for this purpose, and with many people I have talked to over the past few months with regards to muscle and joint problems this has been the biggest factor and underlying cause.

I know my sister had all sorts of trouble getting her desk and her office chair configured exactly to her needs and she suffered with neck pain, low back pain, and headaches until we could get it just right. I had to make some visits to her house to try and help her. The simple fact is her house is just not designed for the needs of her job.

Here is some great pictures to help guide you on this set up

 

Below is some good tips to help you and you will find the rest of the steps in the article - Move more and sit less

If you have a stand up desk at home that is great as these have been shown to make a big difference. I kept the research link at the bottom of the page from last time in case you missed it. But for many people this is not viable option and they will have to make do with what they have.

Exercises for the Office Worker to Combat Sitting

One of the first things I always tell a person to do who sits all day is to use exercises that will enhance their posture and counter the damage of sitting. And one of the best ways to do this is to use movements that encourage EXTENSION of the spine and hips as opposed to flexion. It sounds too simple to be true and to some extent it is as some people will need a lot more depending on their problem. But as a general rule this is a good start.

These exercises assist you in restoring "ideal posture".

If you were to draw a line extending down the side of the body it should run through the ear lobe, transect the shoulder, hip and knee joints and fall just in front of the ankle bone. This is the position you are trying to maintain with all of the following exercises.

Below are two videos that give you some great ideas of how to improve your posture.

 

There is also an excellent PDF you can download below that includes over 40 exercise pictures and instructions of our best methods for improving posture and stability. This detailed report covers everything from workstation set up to home workouts, and even nutrition essentials for the office worker. This is the ultimate report for the office worker. Click here to get your copy.

Going For a Quick Walk Can Do Wonders For Your Body

Designating regular breaks from sitting to avoid stiffness creeping into your body is another important thing you can do to prevent the onset of problems. Going for a fast 10 minute walk can do wonders for your lower back and even help to reverse some of the damage of sitting.

"Each step is a series of small muscle contractions that work to keep the pelvis from sinking down on one side and bending the spine". - Dr Stuart McGill

When you walk, the health of your back muscles is improved in the following ways.

  1. Increases blood flow. Decreased physical activity can cause the small blood vessels of your spine to become constricted, reducing blood flow to the spinal muscles. Walking helps open up the blood vessels, increasing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to these muscles.
  2. Flushes out toxins. Muscles produce physiologic toxins when they contract and expand. Over time, these toxins can accumulate within the lower back muscle tissues and cause stiffness. Walking helps flush out these toxins and improve flexibility.

These two factors can assist you in building strength in the muscles of your lower back and reduce the chance of pain. They will not be enough to strengthen your body on their own, as you still need to develop sound movement skills (bending in particular) and have many exercises to strengthen the muscles supporting the pelvis. But this is a great start and a simple way to preserve some basic stability and strength.

 

Not only does this prevent the onset of damage to your joints and your muscles it also can help keep your waistline in check.

Sitting for too long slows down the body’s metabolism and the way the enzyme lipoprotein lipase breaks down our fat reserves. And as metabolism goes down your blood glucose levels and blood pressure go up! Which is not good news for your health. Small amounts of regular activity, even just standing and moving around throughout the day is enough to bring the increased levels back down. And those small amounts of activity add up – scientists have suggested that 30 minutes of light activity in two or three-minute bursts could be just as effective as a half-hour block of exercise. But without that activity, blood sugar levels and blood pressure keep creeping up, steadily damaging the inside of the arteries and raising the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Zoom Fatigue

Having constant breaks is also very important for your eyes as research has shown staring at screens for longer periods can have a dramatic impact on your sleep. In fact this is something that has become such a big problem with the rapid rise of online Zoom meetings that it even has its own name - Zoom fatigue!

I have to admit I find these sessions very draining. It is something about being on the screen for the whole duration and you cannot move out of sight that leaves me feeling much more exhausted than a normal training session in the gym. There is a reason for this and I suggest to have a great read of this article about Zoom fatigue that explains exactly why it is so stressful to the brain.

Here is a part of the article that explains what happens to your brain during these calls.

“We’re engaged in numerous activities, but never fully devoting ourselves to focus on anything in particular,” says Andrew Franklin an assistant professor of cyber psychology at Virginia’s Norfolk State University. Psychologists call this continuous partial attention, and it applies as much to virtual environments as it does to real ones. Think of how hard it would be to cook and read at the same time. That's the kind of multi-tasking your brain is trying, and often failing, to navigate in a group video chat.

This leads to problems in which group video chats become less collaborative and more like siloed panels, in which only two people at a time talk while the rest listen. Because each participant is using one audio stream and is aware of all the other voices, parallel conversations are impossible. If you view a single speaker at a time, you can’t recognise how non-active participants are behaving—something you would normally pick up with peripheral vision.

For some people, the prolonged split in attention creates a perplexing sense of being drained while having accomplished nothing. The brain becomes overwhelmed by unfamiliar excess stimuli while being hyper-focused on searching for non-verbal cues that it can’t find.

That’s why a traditional phone call may be less taxing on the brain, Franklin says, because it delivers on a small promise: to convey only a voice.

Resources to Help You

There obviously is a lot more things to consider and if you are someone suffering with back pain, neck pain, or shoulder pain I would encourage you to get it diagnosed by a qualified health therapist. There is some great programs below you can you instantly download that provide you with all of our assessments and corrective exercises to restore your body back to good health. Click the image below of the program you require.

  

Summary

Working from home has definitely changed the way many of us will work forever. There is no doubt there is some tremendous upsides to this, but we must be aware of the potential dangers this new working arrangement may cause. We have to become smarter with how we structure our working environment and put in place several health strategies to combat the negative impact it can place on us. If you can implement the things discussed in this article you will go a long way to living pain free and enjoy working from home. 

If you live in Melbourne and would like to know more about our personal training or core strength programs click the image below to request a free consultation and I will get back to you within 24 hours to schedule time.

About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specializes in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.

References:

  • Mccrindle Research
  • Sitting On The Job - By Scott Dunkin
  • Movement - By Gray Cook
  • Corrective Exercise Solutions for the Hip & Shoulder - by Evan Osar
  • Back Pain Mechanic - by Dr Stuart McGill
  • Diagnosis & Treatment Of Movement Impairment Syndromes - By Shirley Sahrman
  • Low Back Disorders - by Dr Stuart McGill
  • Ultimate Back Fitness & Performance - by Dr Stuart McGill
  • Core Stability - by Peak Performance
  • Athletic Body in Balance - by Gray Cook
  • Anatomy Trains - by Thomas Meyers
  • Motor Learning and Performance - By Richard A Schmidt and Timothy D Lee
  • Assessment & Treatment Of Muscle Imbalance - By Vladimir Janda
  • How To Eat, Move & Be Healthy by Paul Chek
  • Scientific Core Conditioning Correspondence Course - By Paul Chek
  • Advanced Program Design - By Paul Chek