Remember those mornings, not too long ago, that you strapped on your bicycle helmet and pedaled a few miles to your workplace? Or the lunch hours you spent on a jog with other sporty colleagues before returning to your desk? What about the long, head-clearing walks home from the office in the evenings?
Working from home can offer many benefits—cozy surroundings, daytime pajama bottoms, and great coffee, to name a few. But transitioning from an office building to a corner of your bedroom or a backyard studio affects some workers adversely.
Per Gallup research, some remote employees have reported increased depression and loneliness, and some state that it’s difficult to stay physically active without the habits they’ve cultivated over years of in-person work. (Think lunchtime tennis with colleagues or a daily group power walk between meetings.)
It’s no secret that exercise increases endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that flood our brains and contribute to a sense of wellbeing. Without it, we can feel anxious and sluggish. Fortunately, ways to ensure daily movement when you work from home abound. And you can tailor routines to your particular needs to keep your body and mind at peak fitness.
Set yourself up for success
Here are several strategies that will help you maintain a workout routine while working from home.
Start the day in workout clothes
Many people sit down at their desk each day in workout clothes and sneakers and keep a yoga mat and a weight set, balance disc, exercise bands, or other fitness equipment close at hand. This step makes it easy to transition into exercise whenever time allows.
Prep your gear in advance
If you’re more of an outside exerciser, gather your gear the night before so that when it’s time to walk, run, bike, or strap on the in-line skates, you’ll have everything you need without searching for missing earbuds or kneepads.
Schedule workouts on the calendar
You’re already in the habit of scheduling business Zoom meetings on your calendar. Treat your daily workout with the same respect. Write down the specific time you’ll exercise each day in your day planner and note the type of activity you plan to do. One tip for scheduling: Some studies suggest exercising at the same time each day helps instill movement as a habit.
Vary your workouts
Perhaps Mondays you’ll jog three miles, Tuesdays you’ll do a home yoga practice, and Wednesdays you’ll pedal on a stationary bike for an hour or ride outside. Mix things up to keep your exercise routine fresh and exciting, so it’s something to look forward to rather than dread.
Consider a fitness tracker
While not for everyone, a fitness tracker on your phone or wrist allows you to create step goals for the day and provides a small motivational reward when you’ve met those goals—usually a vibration, sound, and/or fun graphic. Such devices could reduce sedentary behavior and increase movement. If you’re wild about new running and bicycling routes, sign up for a program such as Strava, which helps you find the perfect trail while allowing you to meet and compare notes with other users online.
Work toward a goal
If you’re goal-oriented, sign up for a 5K walk, a 10K run, or another competitive exercise event. If you crave a sense of community in your workout routine, sign on with a group such as the Train Like a Mother Club, which offers training plans, strength-training videos, and social media support. Or go digital with free and low-cost apps and fitness groups. You could even challenge colleagues to join you in a Facetime or Skype workout.
Don’t give up
Even the most diligent among us has to miss a business meeting sometimes. Likewise, if you have to skip a scheduled workout, it’s not the end of the world. Be flexible and consider whether you could sneak in a 30-minute evening walk. Even half an hour of moderate movement has remarkable benefits, such as increasing muscle and bone strength, improving heart and lung fitness, and reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke.
How to stay active at home
Numerous studies have linked prolonged sitting to a higher risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer, as well as increased risk of physical disability as we age. One study even found that middle-aged adults who sit more than nine hours a day double their risk of early death.
Here’s the good news: The same study found that a brisk, 24-minute daily walk can help counteract the effects of staying sedentary. Plus, your dog (if you have one) will thank you!
Don’t have a spare 24 minutes in the middle of your workday? Note that getting up and moving every half hour reduces the harms of prolonged sitting, according to a 2017 study.
To move more, consider the Pomodoro Technique. It was developed in the 1990s by Francesco Cirillo, who used a tomato-shaped timer to get more physical activity during his workday. Here’s how it works.
- Choose a task.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes.
- Work on the task until the timer rings.
- Take a five-minute break to stretch, walk, do jumping jacks, wash the dishes, clean the cat’s litter box—whatever gets you moving.
- Set the timer for another 25 minutes, followed by another five-minute break.
- After four 25-minute segments, take a longer break—between 15 and 30 minutes—and then repeat the routine.
You could also consider a sit & stand desk, which allows you to change up your work positions all day. This can lessen back pain and burn calories. Or pedal at a cycling workstation, which can increase your heart rate and lower blood pressure while you’re writing a memo or report.
Here are a few more ideas for quick bursts of activity that can help you boost brainpower and physical health in the midst of your workday.
Move during virtual meetings
Turn off your camera and stretch, march in place, spin on an indoor bicycle, or work out with exercise bands.
Run up and down stairs
As any football player or track star can tell you, running stairs or bleachers is an excellent cardiovascular workout. Bonus: It also strengthens multiple muscle groups and improves balance.
Do bodyweight exercises
Do pushups, squats, mountain climbers, and/or wall sits. Need inspiration? Check out Lifehack’s 7 minute workout, which includes 12 exercises that require only a chair, a wall, and your bodyweight.
Hold the plank pose for 30 seconds
The classic yoga/Pilates posture strengthens your abdominal muscles along with the rest of your core.
Put on your favorite music and dance
Dance is gentle on the body, and research suggests it boosts both mood and cognitive performance.
Do a workout video
Trying different workout videos can shake up your routine and take the guesswork out of exercising. Consider something like Yoga with Adriene, which is free and low key and provides terrific workouts. Bonus: Adrienne’s dog makes frequent appearances on her videos.
Jump on a mini trampoline
Also, check out this 30-minute, full-body workout from the New York Times, in which the jump rope plays a starring role.
Don’t have dumbbells? Large cans of fruit or vegetables work great, as do jugs of water or bags of onions or potatoes.
Take business calls while walking around outside
Studies show that time outside boosts mental health and reduces stress.
Do yoga poses
Use a free online resource (such as this one) to design your own yoga routine. A quick stretch break can rejuvenate your body and mind.
No matter your preferred workout, don’t forget to hydrate and blast your favorite tunes to stay motivated!
How to encourage active employees
Research suggests that employee wellness programs can be effective for reducing sedentary behaviors and helping team members figure out how to stay active at work. Some surveys suggest these programs are much more important to remote workers than to those who work in an office. Benefits include enhanced work performance and greater physical and emotional health.
If you’re an employer, here are some ideas for motivating team members to stay active while working at home. (Just note that it’s not the right of an employer to tell team members what to do with their bodies. Let these activities be optional!)
Host a step challenge
Team members can post daily or weekly challenges to one another. The Strava app’s group feature allows coworkers to sync their data.
Allow team members to earn “walking bucks”
They can redeem these rewards for a healthy to-go meal, home gym equipment, or a pair of sweat-wicking sports socks.
Reimburse employees for membership to a workout streaming service
Check in with them about their progress on a site like Slack. (Again, make sure checking in is optional. No team member should have to tell their employer what they did with their body that week.)
Start a fitness channel
Use Slack or Microsoft Teams to build camaraderie among team members, discuss workouts and training tips, and share support.
Create a sports team(s)
The benefits of group sports teams include increased work performance and a greater sense of solidarity between coworkers. Golf could lend itself to social distancing guidelines, as does tennis (as long as employees maintain distance, keep their hands away from their faces, and wash or sanitize their hands often). Of course, let team members choose whether they feel comfortable meeting in person.
Regardless of whether you’re an individual who’s decided to commit to daily physical activity while working at home or an employer devoted to supporting their employees in moving more during the workday, you’ll reap the benefits of increased exercise.
After just a few weeks of increased activity, team members should begin to notice increased strength and endurance along with improved sleep, enhanced job performance, and a greater sense of wellbeing. Set that timer, jump up, and move!