Remote Work Can Be Healthy
3,000. That’s how many laps a French man ran to complete a marathon ON HIS BALCONY at the start of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Lockdown rules made it difficult to run outside, but the dedicated runner didn’t let that stop him. That’s not surprising, as he declared, “My only pleasure is running.”
He wasn’t alone. Many found themselves missing their workout routines as they were forced indoors during the pandemic. Working from home, with gyms closed, we all had to get creative. While lockdown orders in the United States weren’t strict enough to ban runners from hitting the trails (except in rare cases,) not everyone is a runner. Some people, cooped up in small apartments and unable to buy even a single set of dumbbells, simply gave up.
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Health Benefits of Working From Home
Working from home has traditionally been seen as healthier than traditional office work. Studies have shown that daily commutes have a negative impact on both your mental and physical health. On the other hand, remote workers routinely make healthier choices and exercise more than office workers.
But that was before. What about when much of the population is forced to work from home without the ability to go to the gym? Well, researchers have already studied the impact, and while the studies were small, they showed that there really might be some health risks to being forced to work from home.
Remote Work Might Be a Pain in the Neck
Researchers found an increase in back and neck pain among employees who were newly working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. Count me among them! Without access to my standing desk and ergonomic setup in the office, I often found my neck sore and back aching. It turns out that kitchen tables are not an ideal work surface.
It also didn’t surprise me that mental health has been a genuine concern. Social isolation has been linked to mental health concerns in the best of times. During a pandemic? It’s no surprise people have been suffering. (Here are some tips to help you stay positive during tough times.)
It’s important that we continue to prioritize our mental and physical health while working from home. Whether you’ve switched to full-time remote work, are planning to go back to the office once the situation is safer, or are working from home one or two days a week, you can benefit from setting some healthy habits.
(If you do have neck pain, this neck and shoulder massager has been a life saver!)
Although I struggled at the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve managed to set healthy habits and am in the best shape I’ve been in years. In fact, I’ve lost almost 10 pounds this year and feel more energized than ever. Here are the exact websites, apps, and products I’ve used to stay healthy while working from home.
How to Stay Healthy While Working From Home
Okay, so I know I’ve mentioned my standing desk in multiple other blog posts, but there’s a reason for it. It works! As mentioned, my back HURT when I first started working from home. Sitting all day in uncomfortable chairs or on the couch really caused my sciatica (and several other issues) to flare up.
I made the switch to a standing desk in the office a few years ago, and it did wonders for my back. The desk easily moves up and down, so I can choose to sit or stand throughout the day. I estimate that I would stand for about half the day and sit for the rest. By switching back and forth, I didn’t get stuck in one position for hours at a time, which really improved my posture. I also found that I walked around the office more when I was standing, increasing my step count.
After a few months of working from home, I realized I needed a standing desk for my home office, too. I invested in the same one I use in the office, which is really quite affordable, and it made a big difference once again. If there’s one office upgrade I’d recommend to help your health while working from home, it would be getting a standing desk.
My desk cycle was another great purchase that’s helped me stay active during the day. It fits right under my desk and allows me to pedal whenever I feel like it. It’s perfect for long conference calls when I don’t have to talk much, so nobody can hear my labored breathing. You can really work up a sweat if you want!
I wouldn’t consider this a replacement for a spin bike, but it’s a great way to sneak in some extra cardio to your day. My one caveat is that you need a chair that doesn’t move in order for this to be effective. Unfortunately, I only have chairs with wheels, so I couldn’t figure out how to get this to work without sliding all around at first. If your wheels don’t lock, you can try these furniture stoppers, instead. I put them underneath the wheels of my chair, and now it doesn’t budge! With these stoppers, I can use my desk cycle whenever I want without having to worry. They’re also super lightweight and portable, so it’s really easy to move them if I want to use my chair normally.
This one might seem a little funny, but trust me, it works. And it’s fun! I bought a rebounder, which is essentially a mini-trampoline, to work out on. Unlike the little spring-loaded trampolines you might have played on as a kid, this is specifically designed for exercise. It’s super quiet and holds up under intense cardio.
Best of all, it’s really good for you! There are a lot of health benefits from rebounding, including boosting the lymphatic system. One of the primary purposes of the lymphatic system is immune defense, which helps keep you from getting sick. I think everyone can appreciate that this year!
One of my favorite things about the rebounder is it’s easy on your joints. I love running, but I have a long injury history, and it’s difficult for me to run too much without risking further injury. The rebounder has been a really fun way for me to get in a great cardio workout without worrying about stress fractures. (And did I mention it’s FUN???)
I know this isn’t exactly a hidden secret, but I’ve been surprised how much of an impact the Apple Watch has had on keeping me accountable and healthy while working from home. I always know where I’m at with my step count, get notifications when I haven’t stood for the last hour, and can check my calorie burn with a flick of the wrist.
Perhaps the most important feature of the Apple Watch is the ability to connect with my family and friends. I’ve connected with several family members and coworkers, and we keep each other accountable with Apple’s built-in competitions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a notification that my coworker just finished a three-mile run and ended up working out just so I didn’t get shown up. As a twin, I’ve always been driven by competition, and this feature really helps.
When I was working in the office, I’d have almost 2,000 steps by the time I reached my desk in the morning. Between getting ready in the morning and taking the deceptively long walk from my car to my desk, I’d easily walk a mile without even realizing it. I’d continue to rack up steps just by walking to the water cooler and to my friends’ desks throughout the day. It wasn’t uncommon for me to reach 7,000+ steps without even trying. I’d hit my 10,000 step goal most days by going for a lunchtime walk in the park nearby.
I quickly realized that walking from the couch to my computer at home did not have the same impact. In fact, on particularly lazy days, I could make it to noon without breaking 1,000 steps. I knew I had to do something to up my step count. Enter: StepBet.
StepBet is an app that incentives your step count. You bet that you will meet your minimum step count each day for a set period of time. The most common situation is a $40 bet for a six-week challenge. If you don’t hit your steps, you lose the money you put in. If you succeed, you split the pool of money from everyone in your group who didn’t meet their goals.
I don’t know about you, but losing $40 is a pretty big motivator for me to get my steps in. And earning even more is just the cherry on top! My step count has skyrocketed since I started using StepBet, and I feel healthier and stronger just from all the extra walking. Best of all, I’ve learned how to incorporate more walking into my daily life, which will benefit me long after I stop using the app!
Perhaps the best decision I made this year was to try intermittent fasting. I started in January, and had no way of knowing what an important decision that would turn out to be!
I love food. And with that, comes a lot of mindless eating. I used to eat all day long, whether I was hungry or not. I have a generally healthy diet, so dieting has never made sense to me. My issue has always been how much I eat.
After reading study after study about how effective and safe intermittent fasting could be, I finally decided to try it. I didn’t think I’d last a week. After all, on a normal work day, I would eat breakfast before 6:30 am, have another small meal around 9 am, and then another snack before 11 am. How could I survive waiting until noon to eat?
Thankfully, I found Zero. Zero easily let me track my fasting hours, so I didn’t have to set strict times to eat. Instead of waiting until noon to eat, I’d just make sure I had a full 14-16 hours between my last meal one day and my first meal the next.
Note: I read a lot on intermittent fasting before trying it. I chose to do a 14 hour fast because several studies suggested that might be better for women to start with.
To my surprise, after a few days, I realized I wasn’t nearly as hungry in the morning as I thought I would be! In fact, I would often make it to 16 hours without even realizing. Zero helped me track to make sure I didn’t eat before my 14 hour window was up, but most days it wasn’t a problem.
A real side benefit of fasting for me is that I’ve become more aware of when I’m actually hungry versus when I want to eat out of boredom. I’ve learned to really pay attention to my body and not eat just because it’s a mealtime. That also means that yes, sometimes I eat before my 14 hours is up. If I’m truly hungry, I don’t deprive myself. But that’s only happened a few times this year.
I couldn’t have chosen a better time to start intermittent fasting. Now that I’m working from home, I have endless snacks to choose from all day. I can easily imagine an alternate reality where I would be eating nonstop from 7AM to 7PM. Because of intermittent fasting, I’m eating much less than I would have otherwise, and I think this is probably the real reason I’ve lost weight this year.
Achievement is a fun app that pays you to be active! It connects to other health apps on your phone (including the iPhone’s native Health app) to track your activity. You earn points for being active, reading articles about health issues, and taking health-related surveys. It’s a fun way to learn more about the science behind exercise and nutrition, and a great motivator to be more active throughout the day.
Achievement will send you a $10 gift card for every 10,000 points you earn. It takes a few months to get to that point, but it’s worth it just for the encouragement to make more healthful choices.
Beachbody is a popular program you may have heard of through your high school friend who’s now coaching in their system. Their coaching is very well known, but you might not be as familiar with their on-demand program. And let me tell you, it’s amazing.
No, seriously. I was super skeptical of Beachbody at first, but for $99 a year, you get access to some hugely popular workout programs, like P90X and Insanity. You can follow these workouts every day or mix and match from their entire library.
My personal favorite option is Core de Force, an MMA-inspired program that works up a serious sweat! There’s something for everyone, from yoga and barre, to intense cardio and strength training systems, to pre-natal programs and meditation. Even if you only have 15-20 minutes to exercise each day, you can find a workout for you.
For a fraction of what you’d pay at the gym, you have access to years’ worth of high-quality workouts. If you’re looking for a complete health reboot, you can buy meal plans and training guides to go along with every individual program, but the on-demand system is more than enough for me.
Blogilates has been a HUGE part of my health and fitness journey this year. As I mentioned earlier, I have a long history of injuries from my years of running. I love to run, but it’s pretty much a given that I’m going to tweak something if I start upping my mileage. My physical therapists love me because I give them so much business!
One of the great benefits of going to physical therapy is I’ve learned how to strengthen some of my imbalances to limit my chances of hurting myself. BUT, I’ve always been really bad at staying consistent with their exercises (hence, the persistence injuries). Until I found Blogilates.
It turns out, a lot of the exercises I do in physical therapy are based in pilates. The problem is, traditional pilates classes are expensive. But not Blogilates!
If you haven’t heard of Cassey Ho, she’s a YouTube star who built her empire on her own form of pilates, called Pop Pilates. Her bubbly personality, seemingly endless energy, and body positivity are infectious.
At first, I actually didn’t think I could handle doing her videos because they were almost too bubbly, and that’s not exactly my style. But it turns out, when you’re doing the same deceptively challenging exercise for two minutes straight, that enthusiasm can really keep you going.
The best part of Blogilates? It’s completely free! There are paid options, but Cassey shares a free workout calendar each month. Every day, I log into Youtube and do her pre-made playlist for the day. This was really the key to my success. I can roll out of bed, turn on the tv, and not have to think about what workout I’m doing every day. Eliminating the need to think first thing in the morning really helped me establish my workout routine.
Another great aspect of the program is the different challenges she shares. In May, she released a different 7-day challenge every week. I found myself constantly refreshing her website on Saturdays, waiting for her to release the new challenge that would torture me for the week! Over the past few months, I’ve also been adding her month-long 100 repetition challenges to my normal routine. It’s been a big motivator and helps keep everything fresh and exciting.
YOGATX is another completely free option available on YouTube. Everyone has their favorite YouTube yoga channel, and YOGATX is mine. Instead of some channels that only have one instructor, YOGATX has several, which means there’s a good chance you’ll find at least one you like.
As a beginner, I’ve found their videos to be really easy to follow. The few times I’ve gone to in-person Yoga classes, I’ve actually been surprised at how well I’ve been able to follow the flow from what I’ve learned for free on YouTube.
My favorite part of YOGATX is they have videos for whatever you’re looking for. If you’re just looking for a 30 minute full body flow, you can do that. If you want something to ease you into your day, their Morning Yoga series is perfect. Have a persistent pain in your neck? They have a video for that! It’s super customizable to your specific needs, with videos as quick as five minutes if you’re short on time.
If you’re suffering with aches and pains from your non-ergonomic home office setup, I definitely recommend trying YOGATX to work out the kinks. Of course, always consult a doctor before starting a new workout program or if you have any injury concerns.
Find Your Health Journey
Everyone is different. What worked for me might not necessarily be perfect for you, but these products and programs have been a lifesaver during the weirdest year of my life. With so much uncertainty, it’s been really helpful to establish a workout routine and have one constant in my life. I still don’t know when I’ll go back to the office, but I know that the habits I’ve developed while working from home will set me up for a healthy return.