7 Best Ways to Stay Healthy Working From Home

Are you reading this article at home or at work? My guess is that because this is 2020, the answer is ‘Yes’.

Times have been a-changin’ for quite a while now due to improving internet connections, a burgeoning of work collaboration apps, and a willingness of employers to experiment with a potentially cost-cutting remote work structure. Now throw in a global pandemic and the government-mandated quarantine and the ‘work-from-home’ economy is the new normal.

(BLAH, BLAH, BLAH… Skip to the TIPS!)

Stanford Economist Nicolas Bloom first published a study in 2014 that examined the concept of working from home and it’s impact on labor economics and management practices. As a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), he has published a policy brief that expands on his findings in the backdrop of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Here is a telling exerpt:

“We see an incredible 42 percent of the U.S. labor force now working from home full-time. About another 33 percent are not working – a testament to the savage impact of the lockdown recession. And the remaining 26 percent – mostly essential service workers – are working on their business premises.

So, by sheer numbers, the U.S. is a working-from-home economy. Almost twice as many employees are working from home as at work.”

Nicolas Bloom PhD
Best-Ways-Stay-Healthy-Working-From-Home

So the good news is that you can trade in your suit and tie for your ‘good’ pj’s.

The not-so-good news is:

  • that you will be surrounded by tempting snacks,
  • you will lack the social stimulation of coworkers,
  • you may miss the oversight of a manager to keep you honest
  • you will most likely spend most of your day in a ergonomically-harmful position (propped up in bed or on the slouch-couch).


Here are the 7 ways to keep yourself pain-free, stay on task, and not miss the dreaded office:

Disclosure: Clicking on my product links may result in me getting a small commission. That being said, I personally own and use all of the products that I recommend.

1. Get Yourself a Standing-Desk

“Sitting is the new smoking.”

In 2012, Australian Researchers found that “sedentary lifestyles are themselves a risk factor for cardiometabolic morbidity and all-cause mortality, even when controlling for overall levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity1.”

TRANSLATION: Prolonged sitting increases that risk of cardiovascular or metabolic disease. The risk can not be erased with a few weekly trips to the gym when it’s convenient.

SOLUTION: Standing desks and adjustable-height desks like this one have been shown to:

  • Reduce weight gain: A work afternoon spent standing burns approximately 170 more calories than if you were seated2. That is almost 1000 calories per week!
  • Reduce Blood Sugar Levels3 and decrease risk of Diabetes by 112%
  • Reduce Heart Disease: Prolonged sitting has been shown to correlate with a 147% increased risk of heart disease4.
  • Dramatically Reduce Back and Neck Pain: Multiple studies support the use of standing desks for reducing orthopedic pain, with the CDC publishing 54% improvement in these areas after 4 weeks5.

Getting an adjustable height desk so that you can alternated between sitting and standing might be the single best ergonomic adaption you can make for working at home.

2. Get Yourself a Floor Mat

Anti-Fatigue Mats are designed to disperse a person’s weight more evenly and prevent aches and pains that can develop in the feet and knees. If you take my advice and get a standing desk (see tip #1), do yourself a favor and get an anti-fatigue mat like this one… your feet will thank you.

3. Use a Medicine Ball for a Chair

A common Physical Therapy intervention for people with Diastasis Recti, back surgery, or any kind of core instability is a series of progressive balance exercises performed while sitting on a medicine ball.

The mildly unstable surface requires you to activate your trunk muscles to maintain balance. This is shown to improve core strength, enhance your posture and postural muscles, and even burn calories.

While there are many ‘high end’ options like this one, I actually recommend a back-less and base-less chair like this more affordable one to maximize the use of your trunk muscles.

4. Use True Wireless Ear Buds

Bending your neck down and/or to the side can put tremendous extra stress on your cervical spine. In fact, a 15 degree head tilt can put 27 extra pounds of pressure and bending your neck down to look at your phone can add up to 60 extra pounds of pressure on the vertebral column6.

Remember the ‘old days’ when your office would attach a bulky plastic chunk to the side of your desk phone so that you could pin the receiver to your shoulder without cranking on your neck?

That was a valiant effort at office ergonomics, but technology has won the day with True Wireless Ear Buds. Hands-Free and neck-friendly is the way to go, I personally recommend these.

5. Never Skip Your Daily Stretches

Whether you are at home or have gone back to the office, the hazards of sedentary work to the musculoskeletal system are always present. Prolonged sitting postures, typing postures, and screen-reading postures all lead to a muscular imbalance that both causes pain and makes you look bad.

Here are the key muscles that will need your attention: (I’ve attached a pdf for a visual aid)

  • Hip Flexors: On the front of your hip, their job is to lift your leg forward. Prolonged sitting keeps them in the shortened position and gets them tight, which can lead to back pain. Solution: Hip flexor stretch (See PDF below).
    • HOW TO DO IT: Assume a lunge position with one knee bent and planted firmly on ground. Lean back until stretch is felt across the front of that hip. Hold 30 seconds.
  • Pectorals: Your chest muscles will get tight and your shoulders roll forward after a day of working at the computer. This will lead to shoulder pain, neck pain, sloppy posture, and eventual breathing difficulties. Solution: Chest stretch (See PDF below).
    • HOW TO DO IT: Using a straight elbow, place your hand on the corner of a wall or door frame. Turn away from that hand until a gentle stretch is felt in your chest. Hold 30 seconds.
  • Low back: Prolonged sitting or static standing greatly reduces the mobility of your back muscles. It won’t be long before you start to feel stiff. This can also be greatly minimized by using a medicine ball for sitting (See tip #3). Solution: Seated trunk rotation (See PDF below).
    • HOW TO DO IT: Sit erect in your chair. Rotate at the waist and reach your right arm to the left side of the chair back. Hold 30 seconds, repeat on other side.
  • Mid Back: Often neglected, the middle back and thoracic portion of the spinal extensors need your attention too. Solution: Quadruped thoracic stretch (See PDF below).
    • HOW TO DO IT: Get on all fours and reach your right hand under your body toward your left ankle. Hold the stretch in your back for 30 seconds. Repeat on other side.
  • Hamstrings: The primary function of the hamstring muscle (back of thigh) is to bend your knee. If you are sitting all day, the knee is always bent and the hamstring gets tight. Solution: Hamstring stretch (See PDF below).
    • HOW TO DO IT: Assume a lunge position, then extend your leading leg so it is straight in front of you. Reach forward toward your toes until a gentle stretch is felt. Hold 30 seconds. Repeat on other side.
Downloadable below.
  • BONUS: Perform the ‘World’s Greatest Stretch‘ daily. It gets it’s name because it targets every major muscle group, especially those that are compromised by desk work.

6. Never Skip Your Daily Exercises

Repetitive and Prolonged desk work also leads to muscular imbalance and weakened postural muscles. Here are some key exercises to combat this: (again, there is a pdf at the end)

  • Rhomboid Activators: Weak rhomboids are a common problem in our modern and computerized world. Along with a tight chest (See Tip #5), weakened rhomboids contribute greatly to a hunched posture and eventual back, neck, and shoulder pain. Solution: Rhomboid Activators.
    • HOW TO DO IT: Hold an exercise band at arms length with your elbows locked and with your palms facing up. Pull the band apart, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat 10-20x. (See PDF below)
  • Vacuum Pose: Very few of us can sit for an entire workday with the posture of Don Draper or Robin Wright . As the urge to slouch overcomes us, our core muscles relax and the transverse abdominis is the first to give out. Solution: Vacuum Pose.
    • HOW TO DO IT: While sitting or lying on the floor, suck your belly button in towards your spine. Hold 5 seconds, slowly relax, and repeat 5-10x. (See PDF below)
  • Deep squats: Whether you work sitting or have heeded my advice to get a standing desk, you’re still not moving. Your legs are simply stilts to hold up your working parts, or a foundation upon which you sit your butt on. They are not receiving adequate blood flow, they are getting stiff, and the huge muscles are being wasted. Solution: Air squats.
    • HOW TO DO IT: Start with your feet just a bit wider than shoulder width and toes pointed slightly out. Adjust to comfort. Squat down as far as you can go without pain. ‘Discomfort’ is ok, but no pain. Keep your back straight and keep your knees roughly above your feet (not forward past your toes). Push up into stance. Repeat 10-20x. (See PDF below)
  • Cervical Retraction: Desk work makes you look like this… Solution: Cervical Retraction.
    • HOW TO DO IT: Sit straight up in your chair. While keeping your eyes level/not turning your gaze upward or downward, retract your chin in towards your neck. Relax and repeat 5-10x. (See PDF below)
  • Superman: Poor sitting posture strikes again. There are small muscles that support lumbar extension, called the multifidus, that get to go on vacation when you sit all day. Use the Superman exercise to strengthen these postural powerhouses as well as all of your other spinal erectors. Solution: Superman
    • HOW TO DO IT: Lay on your stomach with your arms stretched straight over your head. Keep your legs straight while you raise them off of the floor and simultaneously lift your shoulders and arms into the air in front of you. Hold 5 seconds. Repeat 5-10x. (See PDF below)
Downloadable below.

7. Set Boundaries and Stick To Them

There is no place like home… and there is no place like the office. When we are forced to (or when we have the privilege to) work from home, we must still be able to separate the two.

Enter: the Home Office.

  • Establish a home office and do your work there. Avoid working on the bed (sleep hazard), in front of the TV (distraction hazard), or on the couch (sleep AND distraction hazard).
  • Set and keep your work hours. Although it may be tempting to sleep in late or work late to finish a task, this will start to blur the lines even further and be a detriment to your mental health.
  • DON’T skip your breaks, but DO skip your snacking. When it is time for a break, step out of your home office and clear your mind. Establish a clear distinction so you can refresh your thoughts. Just be sure to keep your hand out of the cookie jar! It’s easier to snack at home and that insulin spike can lead to drowsiness and lost productivity.
  • Set limits with your family. I’m not saying you should ignore them if they need you, but make it clear that you need them to treat you like you’re at work. Constant conversations with them will distract your focus and your work will suffer. Set clear boundaries.

Following these seven tips will go a long way toward keeping you healthy, happy, and productive while working at home. You can avoid the pitfalls of poor posture and keep your body and mind in optimal condition.

And if America ever gets to go back to “normal”, these tips are applicable at most offices as well.

Comment below if you have any other good pieces of advice or cool products to recommend. And be sure to sign up for Rehab Revolution updates:


rehab-revolution-consult-with-therapist

Dan Kristoff PT, DPT is recognized as one of the Top Physical Therapists in Ohio. In his 10+ yrs as a physical therapist, he has helped thousands of patients recover from illness and debility. His company, Rehab Revolution, is less than a year old and has already helped hundreds of clients take back control of their health.

References:
  1. van der Ploeg HP, Chey T, Korda RJ, et al. Sitting time and all-cause mortality risk in 222 497 Australian adults. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(6):494–500.
  2. Buckley JP, Mellor DD, Morris M, Joseph F. Standing-based office work shows encouraging signs of attenuating post-prandial glycaemic excursion. Occup Environ Med. 2014 Feb;71(2):109-11. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2013-101823. Epub 2013 Dec 2. PMID: 24297826.
  3. Wilmot EG, Edwardson CL, Achana FA, Davies MJ, Gorely T, Gray LJ, Khunti K, Yates T, Biddle SJ. Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia. 2012 Nov;55(11):2895-905. doi: 10.1007/s00125-012-2677-z. Epub 2012 Aug 14. Erratum in: Diabetologia. 2013 Apr;56(4):942-3. PMID: 22890825.
  4. Wilmot EG, Edwardson CL, Achana FA, Davies MJ, Gorely T, Gray LJ, Khunti K, Yates T, Biddle SJ. Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia. 2012 Nov;55(11):2895-905. doi: 10.1007/s00125-012-2677-z. Epub 2012 Aug 14. Erratum in: Diabetologia. 2013 Apr;56(4):942-3. PMID: 22890825.
  5. Pronk NP, Katz AS, Lowry M, Payfer JR. Reducing Occupational Sitting Time and Improving Worker Health: The Take-a-Stand Project, 2011. Prev Chronic Dis 2012;9:110323.
  6. Hansraj KK. Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surg Technol Int. 2014 Nov;25:277-9. PMID: 25393825.

Published by Dan Kristoff PT, DPT

President of Rehab Revolution Creator of CleBD Topical and Doctor of Physical Therapy

3 thoughts on “7 Best Ways to Stay Healthy Working From Home

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