How to stay active when working from home

It’s a huge understatement to say that the last 9 months have been particularly difficult for people generally, especially if they are now working from home. For so many people looking after their health and mental wellbeing has become hugely challenging. Juggling job security, work/life balance and redundancy, the new transition to wfh, missing out on the culture, camaraderie and support of the office environment, home schooling, working out of living room spaces or bedrooms without the proper office equipment. All of these play into a long list of potential problems that have to be navigated, each one has a role and plays a part in contributing layers of extra weight onto our already stressed lives.

The word exercise can start off a chain reaction, taking people back to vivid memories of enforced sports classes at School. Playing group sports that they were totally disengaged from, on cold, windswept playing fields. This legacy has left a lasting and indelible impression on many people to the detriment of their health. How do we change our thinking? If we think about movement and staying active then the word exercise doesn’t even have to be mentioned. For millennia as hunter gatherers, movement was built into our DNA and the benefits are almost instantaneous – it really is a miracle pill and part of the solution is to think about it as “incidental activity” movement that takes place as part of your everyday life. One of our favourite quotes is from a book called the Slight edge by Jeff Olson, we have this printed out and it sits on all of our desks

“The things you do every single day, the things that don’t look dramatic,
that don’t even look like they matter, do matter.
That they not only make a difference – they make all the difference.”

Staying motivated is key when we’re trying to look after our long term health and wellbeing, but motivation only lasts so long. The fall in gym attendance normally during February or March on the back of a New Year resolution is testament to this!

Changing our engrained habits and mind-set is a good place to start. If we’re looking after ourselves and taking care of our physical and mental health, we’ll have more energy to look after those around us, it makes sense therefore that we take this seriously. For us to say that we don’t have enough time during the day can also be seen as an excuse, so we have to look carefully at our priorities and any mental roadblocks in our way that may be contributing to any procrastination.

Staying active can be listed simply in a series of steps, as long as we remember to keep it easy, simple and most importantly repetitive. The goal is to turn a few simple actions into new habits that we don’t overthink, they just become normalised and part of our daily work routine. We’re looking for small daily, weekly or monthly 1% improvements, you have complete control.

Our 40-2 strategy is a practical programme that we’ve developed over the past 5 years. The benefits include better productivity, more energy, improved focus, greater flexibility, a healthier posture avoiding potential back pain and improved long term health and mental wellbeing. The mind-set needs to change from reactive to proactive and short term thinking to long term. As an example, lets say it becomes a new philosophy for how to work over the next 40 years.

IN THE MORNING

STAYING ACTIVE STARTS AS SOON AS YOU WAKE UP!

Stretching comes instinctively and science even has a word for it – pandiculating is when you wake up, stretch your arms over your head and give a good yawn and it’s free!. Staying active can start as soon as you wake up, and the benefits apply no matter what age you are. Doing some gentle stretching and breathing right after you wake up is an excellent way to start the day – morning aches can occur because of an increase of fluid in spinal discs and joints so gentle stretches help to ease joint discomfort. Spend at least 5-10 minutes doing a variety of stretches, this will help your muscles to relax, these can be done lying down and on the edge of your bed. Stretching loosens, realigns and lengthens your muscles, this will keep your back in better shape and improve your overall body posture. It also helps circulation, getting your blood flowing faster as your heart rate slows down during sleep. Improving flexibility and aiding general mobility, stretching also increases alertness — all of which may be especially helpful in the morning, helping to get your day off to an energised start. Research also indicates that stretching feels good because it activates your parasympathetic nervous system, increasing blood flow to your muscles and the brain resulting in the feeling of more energy. It may also release endorphins that help to reduce pain and enhance your mood. As you progress, when you start to incorporate deep breathing exercises as part of your stretching it can take it onto another whole level, but it’s best to start slowly and build up.

DURING THE DAY

STEP 1
If not now then when?

If we realise that time is all we have, then making he most of that time can start now, the first step is the hardest. You could see this as an epithany, especially if we view sedentary working and a sitting culture as a problem, one that has close links to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, back pain/poor posture, lethargy and even cancer. Then today is a good day to start!

STEP 2
Taking a pause – using a timer

It starts with talking a micro break, no matter how busy you are – STOP! Work will always be there, so this is the first and most important step. Ideally these breaks should be every 40 mins but you can start with every hour, or every couple of hours. Start slowly and don’t have any huge expectations, this is a marathon and not a sprint so keep it realistic.

Time and the Pomodoro technique – Setting a timer is a really important element of this active working – action plan, we can’t stress how important this is! The sound signals a change and pulls you away from your headspace and the computer. By taking a pause you can allow yourself two minutes of time. Research shows that 30/40 minutes is also a very productive way to work and is an ideal period of time for deep thinking and intense concentration. (Look at the pomodoro technique)

How to stay active when working from home

STEP 3
Stretch, exercise, breathing

Our advice and remember (it’s only a guide) is to use these 2-3 minutes to do a mix of three things and ideally alternate throughout the day.

  • Stretching, relaxed stretching, focusing on areas of the body that feel tight or stiff. Maintaining a supple body gives us the flexibility to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle and is so important especially as we age. (To get you started see our pdf poster)

  • Activity and movement, regular physical activity helps improve muscle strength, boosts endurance and delivers oxygen and nutrients to our tissues that help the cardiovascular system work more efficiently. It’s also a scientifically proven mood booster. The same endorphins that make us feel better, help with concentration and a sharper memory. The aim is to get your heart rate up, some of these can be as simple as running on the spot for a minute, incorporating some light weights will also help maintain your strength and bone density.

  • Breathing, possibly the most powerful element in the action plan is the use of a deep breathing technique. It helps to develop a postural awareness of how the body is feeling. A relaxed mind-body connection, allows you to explore areas of stress, stiffness and pain and begin to use movement, stretching and exercise to address these issues.

STEP 4
Grouping good habits together

During the 2-3 minute micro break you can group some good behaviours together, take this opportunity to hydrate with some water, you can also take a screen break, giving your eyes a well-earned rest at the same time. Adding additional positive habits together provides extra benefits.

STEP 5
Sitting to perching to standing – incorporating a posture break

When we’re working at a desk, it’s important not to get stuck in one position for too long. Transitioning from sitting to perching and standing every time you have a micro break will give your body the variety of posture it needs and craves. Include this part If you have the option of working at a sit-stand desk and an active chair. If you don’t have either you can still take the breaks, stand and walk around and still incorporate the 2-3 minute routines.

STEP 6
Helpful tools – using a colour coded visual support.

An abacus or even coloured counters can be an effective method of visually celebrating your progress throughout the day. Allocate colours for activities you want to work through such as blue for hydration, yellow for breathing, red for exercise etc. Collect the counters in a jar or slide them across an abacus to keep a tally of your daily achievements.

Walking

Walking is one of the most beneficial exercises you can do, it fits the criteria – keeping it easy, simple and repetitive.

A 30 min walk in the morning before you start work is a great way to start the day. Even during the lockdown when working from home, you can pretend by leaving the house and returning that’s it’s a sign that your now in work mode.

Having a proper healthy lunch and a walk is a great lunchtime habit to build into your day. Include a 30 min brisk walk after work and in total you’re achieving the Government guideline of 10,000 steps a day. This equates to about eight kilometres, or an hour and 40 minutes walking, depending on your stride length and walking speed. Broken up into three time slots during the day makes sense and also makes it manageable, for this particular habit to stick it has to be fun and enjoyable. As you get fitter and raise the speed of your walking pace, it’s also a great way into jogging and running. Another benefit of spending this quality time outdoors in the fresh air, is helping you to reconnect with nature, especially if your route is planned to take in a park, wood or river.

But remember 10.000 steps was first used in a marketing campaign and it has stuck, counting steps can rob us of the intrinsic pleasure of walking. A US study found that people who tracked their steps did walk further, but they enjoyed it less, saying it felt like work, their happiness levels were lower than in those who had walked without their steps being tracked. Remember there’s nothing special about 10,000 steps. Set the goal that is right for you. It might be more, it might be less.

HANDY TIPS AND RESOURCES FOR SUCCESS

Making the most of small opportunities

Making a cup of tea can involve going up and down stairs, so add in a few repetitions and make it a great opportunity to do a mini workout while the kettle is boiling, or alternately do 50 heel raises while you’re waiting.

Mobilizations: massaging with movement on your microbreak

Movement and activity are the best medicine for back pain, looking after your posture and avoiding back pain is another important reason to keep moving. “Mobilizations are basically active or “dynamic” stretches and rhythmical movements that “massage” your muscles and joints with movement — wiggle therapy” by Paul Ingraham

Follow this link to find out more – https://www.painscience.com/articles/mobilizing.php

Keeping it fun

It’s not at all necessary but further down the line, simple indoor equipment like a yoga mat, skipping rope, hula hoop, yoga band, kettle bells or even an indoor bike, will give you the variety to keep your activity and exercise routines fun and enjoyable, but don’t rush into buying anything to soon!

How to stay active when working from home

Tiny Habits

Highly recommended is a book called “Tiny Habits” by BJ Fogg, he also offers a free online program. He is a world-renowned behavior Scientist at Stanford University, the book is based on 20 years of research and experience personally coaching over 40,000 people https://tinyhabits.com/join/

Using technology

With so many gadgets on the market, using technology is a great way to keep you active and on track. From smart watches, pedometers or phone apps, fitbits, youtube videos, online classes and even desktop applications you can find something that gives you the right help and support.

Accountability

If you buddy up with a partner or work colleague it can help keep you on track over the long term. This provides support, encouragement and it can be more fun if it’s a joint activity when you’re doing some of the activities like walking for example.

Keep a diary

Keeping a daily movement diary can help enormously, acting as a visual reminder, a list of what you want to achieve on any given day, it also builds up over the months providing a diary of the improvements made, so you can see your progress and how far you’ve come. Celebrating small goals helps reinforce the healthy routines you are building up, turning them into habits.

CHANGING OUR BEHAVIOUR AND BUILDING NEW HABITS

Understanding the psychology that underlies the changing of behaviours is complex. TTM stands for Transtheoretical Model of behaviourial change. As a result of numerous studies, scientists have come up with a logical set of stages that we pass through on our way to making positive changes. It’s worth spending the time to try and understand our behaviour in order to make meaningful changes.

Precontemplation – not ready

At this stage, we’ve never thought or recognised a need for changing a particular behaviour or problematic situation.

Contemplation – getting ready

Here we’ve begun to actively think about the need to change a behaviour. This stage can last anywhere from a moment, to an entire lifetime. This is the stage in which obstacles to change tend to appear. People can get stuck at this stage for a long time.

Determination – ready

We begin preparing ourselves mentally and often physically for action in the immediate future. Determination is the culmination of the decision to change and fuels the engine that drives you to your goal.

Action – starting off

We have changed or modified our bad habits and start to develop healthy new ones. In this case active working, more movement, breathing, exercising and stretching.

How to stay active when working from home

Maintenance – keeping it up

Defined as when people have kept up their new habits for more than six months. People develop a confidence that they can sustain the changes they have made and will work hard to avoid a relapse.

Termination or relapse

This stage is just part of any process leading to behaviour change and is extremely difficult to avoid. If you view relapse as only one more stage in the process of change rather than as a failure, you’re much more likely to be able to quickly return to your desired behaviour – maintenance.

Achievement

At this final stage, new habits will just be part of your working lifestyle. There is every chance you will continue with the behaviour because the gains and advantages have become greater than the losses, there is a huge incentive to keep moving on.

Remember think long term – keep it simple, easy and repetitive.

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