How to Exercise When You’re Working From Home

Angela Cabotaje Fact Checked
Woman Standing at Computer
© BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy United

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the typical office job has changed drastically.

Now instead of fighting traffic, rushing between meetings and popping out of the office for a much-needed coffee break, you’re enjoying the shortest commute ever and jumping into virtual meetings with time to spare.

While this new teleworking thing has definite advantages — “real pants,” we hardly remember thee — it’s not without its drawbacks, too. Mainly, the fact that you’re spending hours hunched over your laptop each day and logging a low number of steps.

“The pandemic has had a negative impact on physical activity levels for most people due to the stay-at-home orders,” says Dr. Cindy Lin, associate director of clinical innovation for The Sports Institute at UW Medicine. “This is happening through increased sitting or sedentary time, with increased time teleworking, home schooling online and increased media-consumption time.”

To help you get moving (or at least standing), Lin explains what prolonged sitting does to your body and shares some simple ways you can stay active while working from home.

What are the side effects of sitting too much?

If it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to stay seated for most of the day, take a look at these stats: According to a study by the American Cancer Society, people who sit for six or more hours each day have a 19% higher risk of early death compared to those who sit for less than three hours.

“It’s believed that sitting for long, uninterrupted periods of time negatively affects your blood flow regulation and muscles,” Lin explains. “It also slows our metabolism, which affects our ability to control blood sugar.”

What that means is sitting at your computer all day long puts you at higher risk for things like cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and other serious health issues.

On top of that, many people who find themselves suddenly teleworking during the pandemic aren’t sitting with the best posture (guilty) and are instead craning their necks and contorting their bodies (double guilty) due to a less-than-ideal workspace set-up.

Want to guess how that affects you?

“Sitting in a hunched posture with rounded shoulders can be associated with back or neck strain and discomfort,” Lin says.

How long should you stand during the day?

If you find your new teleworking life is checking all the wrong boxes, Lin has one easy way that you can get back to healthier habits.

“Try to break up long periods of sitting at least every 30 minutes with a short break to stand up and move around for a few minutes,” she says.

Set a timer that reminds you to get up and stretch every half-hour. And, if you have the time, try to add in achievable movement goals, like taking a lap around your living room or up and down your stairs before you sit back down to work.

If you’re stuck in virtual meetings throughout the day, you can also make it a point to stand up during your call. Even better, if you’re just listening in and don’t need to be on camera, take your calls while walking around your home or even doing some light chores.

Why is standing so important? Well, not only is it good for your circulation, it’s also an effortless way to boost your metabolism.

“When you stand, you burn between 100 to 200 calories an hour,” Lin says. “Sitting only burns 60 to 130 calories an hour, depending on your age, gender, height and weight.”

What are some ways to incorporate movement into a remote workday?

If you’re looking for more ways to fit exercise into your daily telework routine, Lin has other ideas that can help.

Incorporate fitness equipment

Swap out your regular chair for a yoga ball that subtly encourages you to sit up straighter and work harder to stay balanced.

Another option, Lin says, is to purchase an affordable desk pedal cycle that you can fit under a table and use to keep your legs moving while you’re seated.

Schedule movement breaks

If you’re able, block out a few minutes on your calendar each day to devote time to physical activity.

For example, you can use the first 15 minutes of your lunch break to stretch or take a quick walk around the block. Or you can schedule a regular dance break in the middle of your afternoon to jam out to music in your living room.

Even asking your coworkers to be mindful of meeting length can help. If your colleagues make a concerted effort to wrap up videoconferences a few minutes ahead of schedule, that can allow everyone to fit in a movement break between back-to-back meetings.

Make it a challenge

Sometimes all you need is a little motivation.

Try setting a realistic goal for yourself to do a certain number of exercises at home each day, like wall sits, desk pushups and chair dips.

If you hit your weekly goal, reward yourself with a treat of your choosing, whether that’s a glass of wine on the weekend or a new book that you’ve had your eye on.

You can even sign your entire family up for an online challenge, like The Daily Mile at Home, which encourages adults and children to run, jog or walk for 15 minutes each day.

“Many fitness websites are offering online remote group exercise classes for free or reduced cost during the pandemic,” Lin says. “There are so many options to help you get moving.”