Making working from home work for you: your physical health

Headshot image of Lauren Gordon, Bupa UK Behaviour Change Adviser
Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor at Bupa UK
23 September 2020
Next review due September 2023

You might have been working from home for a while now, and finding it’s taking its toll on your health. In this first instalment, we’re focusing on looking after your physical health: setting up your office space, keeping active and eating well. I share some tips and tricks you can try to help you stay healthy, whether you have a dedicated home office or find yourself sharing the kitchen table.

Then in part two we’ll look at being mentally healthy while working from home: keeping your motivation levels up, maintaining social connections and staying focused.

Successful setup

It’s important to look after your posture when you’re working from home. So, tempting as it may be, this means not sitting on the sofa with your laptop on your knees. If possible, sit at a kitchen or dining table if you don’t have a designated office space.

This diagram shows you what your office set up should look like. Your seat should be close to your desk or table and your feet fully on the floor. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows at a 90-degree angle just above the tabletop.

An image of a person sitting at a desk

If you don’t have access to an office chair you might find that sitting for long periods is taking its toll on your back. If this is the case, you might find standing up for some of your day is helpful. While most of us won’t have access to a standing desk you can create one using a kitchen counter or even an ironing board!

If you do this, just make sure that your new workspace is at elbow height, so your arms are at 90 degrees, and that you keep your screen at eye level. You could try stacking books or board games to achieve the correct height. You might also find it helpful to position your desk close to a window. This can reduce any headaches and eye strain you are experiencing, as well as improve your productivity.

Take breaks

Lots of people find that when working from home they tend to sit for long periods of time. However, you should take short, regular breaks to help prevent aches, pains and eye strain. Without the natural rhythm of an office environment, it can help to set some reminders in your calendar to stretch, get up and move and make a drink every hour or so. If it’s in the diary as a commitment, we are more likely to do it, as it helps us better stick to our intentions.

Do some regular stretching throughout the day – one way to remember do this is to attach it to another activity that can serve as a trigger or cue (called habit stacking). For example, do some stretches while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, or stand up and move about when you make or take a phone call.

You could also think about whether you can take calls as walking meetings. If you have a catch-up scheduled with a colleague, you might agree to both go for a walk while you talk on the phone. If that’s not possible, you might be able to use video meetings as an opportunity to stand up and stretch if you are able to turn off your camera.

It might also help to set a timer so that you work for 45 minutes undisturbed, and then take a 15-minute break. This is a good productivity hack too – it’s really hard to stay concentrated for hours at a time.

Make sure you take a lunch break instead of working through it. It’s a good opportunity to get out of the house too. Abbey, who has worked from home for years, says: “I try to take a walk every lunchtime to make sure I get some time away from my screen. Just 30 minutes listening to music or a podcast while walking through the park really helps to give me energy for the afternoon.”

Keep active

To help make sure you do some exercise, put your gym kit on as soon as you get out of bed. You’ll find that being ready to exercise will encourage you to do something active. You’ll be much more motivated to go for a jog on your lunch break when you’re already dressed to go as you have committed yourself to it.

Natalie agrees and says: “When I’m working from home, I do a couple of things. I either do a 10-minute HIIT workout as soon as I wake up. Or I take my yoga mat downstairs and roll it out in the living room so it’s ready and waiting for me at lunch time. I find doing this make me much more committed to doing some exercise rather than face the shame of rolling my mat up unused!”

Another tip is to make use of the commute time you had previously to do some exercise, whether that’s before work or afterwards. Even a short walk can be helpful to get moving and break up your day.

Eat well

Working at home can make it harder to eat a healthy, balanced diet, but there are some things you can do help yourself stay on track.

If you find yourself often reaching for snacks out of habit, try to arrange them in the cupboard so that they are hard to reach or out of sight. If you do get hungry between meals, make it easy to choose healthier foods, for example by having fresh fruit on the counter.

Try not to take snacks to your desk space as this might lead to mindless eating and eating more than you intended. It can also encourage bad habits such as eating lunch in front of your laptop.

When it’s lunch time, take the time to prepare a healthy meal rather than just eating bits and pieces from the fridge or cupboard. You might find it helpful to plan your meals in advance so that you don’t find yourself having to make decisions when you are already hungry.

It can also be helpful to use “if – then” implementation plans so you prepare for cravings of less healthy foods. For example, if I am craving a biscuit, then I will drink a glass of water. Getting the basics right can really help making working from home a comfortable and productive space to be.

Headshot image of Lauren Gordon, Bupa UK Behaviour Change Adviser
Lauren Gordon
Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor at Bupa UK

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