Beware of the health hazards

Beware the health hazards of working from home

Posted June 21st, 2022

Isn’t working from home the most cushty thing ever? Feeling jammy in your jim-jams as you fire off emails from the sofa and plan mid-morning munchies. According to People Management (www.peoplemanagement.co.uk), a survey of UK organisations has found that more than two in five employers (41%) will have adopted hybrid working in two years’ time. There are pros and cons to working from home, but bad habits can make it a slippery slope to compromised health and wellbeing.

Maybe working from home works for you and makes you healthier, happier, wealthier and more productive. Or maybe you think it does, but you’re blissfully unaware of the ugly truth.

The seven sins of working from home

Watch out for the seven sins of working from home that can gradually creep up on you:

  1. According to Healthline, people who sit for prolonged periods have an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, not to mention burning hardly any energy which can lead to lack of motivation, mobility issues and excess waistline fat.
  2. It’s too easy to amble to the fridge several times a day and binge on biscuits. No one’s looking, and if you’re skipping a proper lunch you’ll be reaching out to those crisps and sugary snacks, consuming far more calories than you’re burning and ironically feeling more hungry.
  3. Screen time. When you’re on your phone and laptop all day and into the evening, plus catching up with Netflix, screen time is going to rocket. Research has shown average screen time for UK adults to be as high as 13 hours a day, negatively impacting mood, sleep, attention span, and increasing stress and anxiety.
  4. Poor posture caused by a desk job or lying in an unsupported position can lead to muscular and skeletal imbalances, plus pain, stiff joints and ‘text neck’ from hunching over.
  5. Staying in. If you’re getting out and about whilst wfh, good for you. Enjoy that fresh air, change of scenery, metabolism kick and vitamin D on a sunny day. However, many of us get wrapped up in work, or find the sofa far too tempting, leading to feelings of lethargy and possibly frustration or guilt.
  6. Working from home may be convenient but may also be increasing your stress levels if you feel isolated from colleagues, unsupported or burnt out because there’s no boundary between work and home life.
  7. Sleep is vital and who doesn’t like a daytime nap? It’s a core perk of working from home! But too much alarm snoozing, or poor-quality sleep, can make you feel less than fresh and prevent you getting to sleep at night.

 

What’s NEAT about working from home?

Besides the seven sins, the chances are you’re missing out on burning NEAT calories when wfh, increasing the risk of weight gain. NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, referring to the calories burned by the movements we make when we go about our daily business rather than from dedicated sport or exercise.

In a typical office day perhaps you’re walking to and from the station, standing at the water cooler, going to meetings, travelling between buildings, popping out for lunch and generally being on your feet more frequently. Some wfh days only involve a few steps between rooms and maybe not any stairs at all. The difference could be hundreds of calories (compare a brisk walk to the sandwich shop versus schlepping to the kitchen, or even worse, getting lunch delivered!). According to Dr James Levine, the researcher who first described NEAT, you could burn 2,000 calories a day through these seemingly insignificant activities. But if you’re burning less calories and potentially consuming more, you’re going to start finding it harder to maintain your weight and the pounds will creep on.

Top tips for making working from home more healthy

Is being a slob becoming part of your job?! Home comforts too comforting?! It’s time to get moving and invest in self-care.

  • Make time for a morning/lunch/afternoon walk, or run, even if the weather isn’t favourable. Try ‘walk and talk’ meetings if you can find a quiet spot to walk with your mobile and earbuds. Just get outside.
  • Optimise the extra time, or flexitime, you have by going to the gym, pool, exercise class or personal training. Check out the timetable and be accountable to yourself before the sofa or bed tempt you to take the easy option! If you can’t travel, find an online workout to follow – even 30 minutes is effective.
  • Set a daily steps goal on your smart watch, phone or other device. 10,000 is a respectable target but analyse your average steps over a week for a baseline. Add 1,000 daily steps to become your goal, increasing it when you’re ready.
  • Stand more. Invest in a standing desk (maybe it can be expensed by your organisation) or find a suitably high surface to work from periodically. When compared to an afternoon of sedentary work, an equal amount of time spent standing has been shown to burn over 170 additional calories. A study published by the CDC found that use of a sit-stand desk reduced upper back and neck pain by 54% after just 4 weeks.
  • Take breaks and get away from the screen. Set screen limits on apps that you often mindlessly doom scroll, such as Facebook or news.
  • Stretch regularly or complete ‘desk’ yoga or Pilates to relieve stiffness and keep you focused. Be conscious of your posture and avoid slouching or hunching.
  • Whilst sleep is important, know the difference between pampering and self-care! A daytime power nap can improve mood, creativity, memory and energy. Set an alarm so you don’t end up oversleeping and feeling groggy.
  • Schedule and eat a nutritional lunch, avoiding grazing or fast food. One idea is to prep your lunch in the morning and ensure you have healthy, energising snacks to hand.
  • Switch off. It’s easy to work into the evening or overpromise on deadlines because your desk is at home, but to avoid burnout and establish work/home boundaries, you need to know when to mute notifications, close the laptop and start your evening.

As with most things in life, working from home effectively is about balance. Nurture your body and brain whilst enjoying the freedom and flexibility of not being in an office. Check in on yourself to ensure you avoid the seven sins of working from home.

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