COVID-19 Working from Home, Sitting, and Your Health

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Several of us are now working from home or looking for a new job while planted for hours at a time in a chair staring at a computer screen. If you have a job and still receive a paycheck, be thankful. If you were laid off or had to take unpaid leave, I encourage you to use this time to be creative in your job search and daily livelihood.

Sedentary Days

Regardless of your current situation, the majority of the U.S. is following a shelter-in-place protocol. Please don’t allow this forced time at home to minimize your movement and in turn, jeopardize your health.

Investigators say sitting too much can lead to increased fat surrounding organs, which can place individuals at a greater risk for chronic illness. Using MRI, researchers found that the more time participants spent sitting during the day, the more visceral and abdominal fat they possessed. The research team also notes that this relationship was strongest among those who failed to meet the public health recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. This suggests that regular exercise may offer some protection against the negative effects associated with prolonged sedentary activity. (Obesity, January 2017)

An even better approach is integrating small physical activity breaks throughout your day. One of my personal favorites is doing 10 reps of an exercise on the 10th minute of every hour. Set a repeated timer on your phone or watch. You can easily rack up 100 reps of squats in a single work day! Belly fat, be gone! Try it! Let me know how it goes!

Physical Impact

Extended periods of sitting can lead to several short-term and long-term effects on our physical body.

Sitting can lead to a tight neck, hip flexors, and shoulders. Furthermore, sitting while working at a desk can lead to a tight chest and even tighter neck muscles due to the body’s arms extended forward and head leaning forward when using a keyboard and mouse. And over time, this can cause stress, strain, and muscle tension.

Conversely, extended bouts of sitting can also lead to several muscles getting weaker due to inactivity. For example, our back (erector spinae, lower lumbar spine), scapular stabilizers (middle trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi and lower trapezius), buttocks (gluteus medius, minimus and maximus), and core (rectus abdominis, obliques and transversus abdominis) can all get weaker with repeated bouts of long-term sitting.

In addition to the physical impacts of sitting, I encourage you to further explore the physiological and mental benefits of sitting.

Adding More Movement

Several of us sit for short and often extended amounts of time tending to various computer tasks at work, home, and school. It’s easy to get caught up in a task, phone conversation, or productive meeting and the next thing you know, you have been sitting in the same chair for over 3 hours! Let’s not even talk about sitting when we eat, go to the bathroom, watch TV, or read our little techie gadgets. Regardless of what it is, all of this sitting time adds up. 

A recent 2015 British study that followed 5,000 people for 16 years completely debunked several prior studies about the detrimental impact sitting has on our health and longevity. It stated,

Long periods of sitting may not be as bad for health as previously thought. [The study] did not find any increased risk of early death from prolonged sitting. The results of this extensive study run counter to previous research claims that even regular exercise does not fully overcome the damage of too much sitting. The study did not cast any doubt on the benefits of exercise or the dangers of overall physical inactivity, but its results did suggest that prolonged sitting is no worse than other forms of inactivity, at least for risk of early death.

Find this study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology

The moral of the story is MOVE! Add more physical activity to your day period!

Here’s a quick list of five things you can do while working from home.

  1. MOVE YOUR TRASH CAN: Your trash can may currently be conveniently located near your desk. Stop what you’re doing. Pick it up. And move it to the other side of your office space. This will force you to get up more frequently throughout the day; hence, integrate more physical activity into your workday and burn more calories!
  2. STAND UP- SIT DOWN – STAND UP: I remember learning this trick while listening to a nerdy exercise physiology podcast. One of the presenters gave this excellent tip. Here it is. Every time you are seated and wish to stand up to go do something, stand up, then sit back down, and then stand up and complete your task. This forces you to incorporate move movement–especially, squats to your day.
  3. SIT DOWN – STAND UP – SIT DOWN: Similar to #2, every time you are standing and choose to sit, sit down, then stand back up, and then sit down. 
  4. DRINK MORE WATER: One of the most common complaints about drinking more water at work or even when flying is getting up to use the restroom more frequently. Well, consider this a blessing. Drinking more water AND getting up more often during the day is a WIN-WIN scenario. You are hydrated and incorporating more physical activity into your day. So what are you waiting for? Take another sip of H20!
  5. STRETCH: Regularly incorporate some active and dynamic stretching into your day. Don’t know where to start? Drop me an email.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Numbers 2, 3, and 5 assume you have the ability to stand up, sit down and walk on your own. Please contact me to explore ways to modify these activities for anyone who may have a physical limitation.

This article was originally posted on my LinkedIn profile on April 2, 2020. Since it can only be viewed by LinkedIn users, I decided to also post it on my blog.

Parts of this blog post are excerpts from other C.E.b. Fitness and Wellness blog articles, “Sitting Too Much Increased Belly Fat Around Organs” and “5 Ways to Add More Physical Activity into Your Workday.” . Email: | Social Media: @cebfitwell

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