Survive or Thrive? – How to Make Remote Work Benefit Your Health

Remote work can lead to better health or down a black hole of bad habits. The key is to make good choices. Hardly writer, Leigh, provides the dos and don’ts of working at home so that your body can continue to keep up with your brain.

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There is a lot of buzz about how working from home affects our mental health, but there is less discussion around how remote work affects our physical health. Over the past week, I have been trying to answer this question:

Is remote work better or worse for your physical health?

It boils down to whether you establish good habits or poor ones. Working remotely typically affords us more flexibility and time to make healthy choices. But with freedom comes responsibility; we can no longer justify fast-food lunches, a lack of sleep due to a commute, or back pain because the issued chairs are uncomfortable, and we are chained to our desk. While remote work provides a lot of opportunities to make better choices regarding our physical health, it can be harder to create good habits at home. For every way in which working remotely can improve your physical health, it can also damage it. To prevent you from choosing the wrong side of the coin, here are the dos and don’ts of how to make remote work benefit your body rather than destroy it.

RECOMMENDATION #1

Replace your commute with more sleep

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Skipping the commute is one of the advantages of working from home. That means a later alarm and the opportunity to catch more Zzzzs.  There is a significant amount of evidence that suggests a good night’s sleep seriously boosts productivity. One study of U.S. workers found significantly worse productivity, performance, and safety outcomes among those who slept less. In addition, long-term sleep deprivation is found to be associated with health problems like weight gain, blood sugar dysregulation, indigestion & gastric problems, heart diseases, etc. Overall, sleep quality and duration has a direct impact on our functioning on multiple levels. Those few extra minutes in the morning could make a bigger difference than you think.

RECOMMENDATION #2

Don't snack throughout the day

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One of the things I struggled with the most when I started working remotely was snacking. I was constantly eating anything and everything in my cabinets just because it was there. When I was working at the office, I only ate what I packed for lunch, but working from home it was like I had all the chips and granola bars at my fingertips. I gained 10 lbs after the first three months of working at home.

Limit yourself to 2 healthy snacks per day: 1 between breakfast and lunch and 1 between lunch and the end of the day.  Anything more is typically out of boredom, not hunger. Instead, focus your energy on making a nutritious lunch. One huge benefit of working from home is that you don’t have to wake up earlier to pack your lunch or be tempted by fast-food around your workplace. Remote work allows us to enjoy a healthy breakfast and lunch, which ultimately decreases the likelihood of obesity. An article in Health Magazine states people who commute through areas surrounded by drive-thrus are more likely to stop at them and have higher BMIs. This study even found commuters with the most exposure to takeout joints were almost twice as likely to be obese.

RECOMMENDATION #3

Make your remote work space ergonomic

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Step one is to get a good chair. For the best posture, make sure to get a chair that is height adjustable and has lumbar support. It might also be beneficial to have a standing desk. The more variety, the better. The optimal position is one where your feet touch the floor. Keyboard and mouse placement is also crucial for comfort and preventing yourself from looking like the hunchback of Notre Dame. Ideally, your keyboard should be positioned away from you and slightly down. Next, your keyboard and mouse should be shoulder-distance apart. This will ensure you aren’t reaching unnecessarily. Finally, position your screen where you can sit back in your chair and still see clearly. This will prevent you from craning your neck. Magical, instant remote work health!

RECOMMENDATION #4

Stay active

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Remote work = we are moving even less. When working in the office, you might have to walk from the metro station, get up to go to the copier machine or a colleague’s desk a couple of times a day, or walk to the coffee shop across the street every day. BGR states, “sitting for such long periods can have significant and adverse effects, resulting in higher risks of muscular-skeletal disorders, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and more.” A simple solution is to build in time for physical activity each day. Whether it is a walk or a gym session, a moving body is healthier. Don’t have time for an hour-long high-intensity session? Every hour, just get up and walk around your house for 5 minutes.

RECOMMENDATION #5

Eye health is remote work wealth

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Between the Zoom meetings and constant emails, all of our eyes are glued to screens for extended periods of time. The first thing you can do? Blink! This will keep your eyes moisturized, making them less irritated and less likely to feel like SpongeBob SquarePants without waterForbes also suggests using the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes take 20 seconds to look at least 20 feet away. It gives your eyes a chance to recuperate from the harsh lighting in a minimal amount of time.

Try out these tips for staying healthy while working remotely and comment below what your favorite technique is! The goal is to crush your work, not let you work crush you.

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