Although working from home in the past might have been a rare blessing for those in only a handful of professions, technology and a huge societal shift following the COVID-19 pandemic has been keeping more and more employees out of the office and working from home.
My focus as a physical therapist has always been on a holistic approach to patient care and teaching patients how to integrate exercise into their busy daily lives. As the trend for working remotely continues, helping to keep those in the workforce healthy, fit, and able to maximize their ability to compete in the marketplace has become a new passion for me.
Body Posture Matters When Working From Home
Overuse injuries are common even in sedentary positions, influenced greatly by how one sits, and the overall position of their body relative to their workspace — what I call postural control. Starting with the addition of some type of lumbar (low back) support like a compressible roll or small pillow sets the standard for how long you can maintain an optimal sitting position, but can also influence your breathing, your level of concentration, and reduce back and neck pain.
There are many types of lumbar rolls and supports on the market, ranging from soft to firm. One site I found to be helpful not only produces lumbar supports but also has a wide range of informative articles for people suffering from back pain: everlastingcomfort.net/blogs/comfy-reads/lumbar-cushions.
Having recently suffered a fracture of my right foot, an injury that kept me out of the workplace for more than eight weeks, I can empathize with those who must (or who choose to) remain home and perform mostly sedentary tasks at a computer for hours at a time.
I developed a workout I could do while restricted to a scooter or crutches. Many of the exercises will work using a chair, a counter, the floor, or stairs and can and should be done throughout the day at regular intervals to ensure that you take breaks away from the computer.
Just Step Away
Stepping away from your desk has multiple benefits: preventing screen fatigue, allowing for a change in posture and therefore activation of different muscles, as well as encouraging you to regroup, rethink, or re-imagine solutions to a particular problem.
However, before even stepping away from your desk for those crucial breaks, I suggest that everyone considers their workspace itself, including the type of chair, considering also where and how your forearms are in relation to your computer. In addition, ensure that your computer screen is at eye level and a distance from you that allows you to sit upright. This will prevent you from leaning forward in your chair. My number one mantra: Don’t sit like a banana! The lumbar roll mentioned above makes it easier to maintain good posture throughout the day.
Physical therapist Mark Bonscer is the operations leader for Border Therapy Services with clinics located in El Paso and Las Cruces. He shared the following: “One thing I have always recommended to my patients, not just those working remotely, but everyone in a more sedentary job is the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes get up and walk around for at least 20 seconds and at least 20 feet away from your desk.”
Adding to Mark’s advice, I suggest that you include the various exercises I have included here that allow you to target particular muscle groups and ensure an overall body workout before returning to your desk.
Start the Morning Right
Consider what I would call “the morning commute” and start your workday with positive meditation or reflection time for three to five minutes. Focus on positive, encouraging thoughts and passages, include your favorite music or song, and perform a one-to-two-minute march or jog with alternating shoulder arm raises in front of your workstation. End with some standing back bends, followed by standing arm extension with fingers clasped, behind your back at buttocks level, extending back for holds of 15 seconds.
Knowing that you got your workday off to a good start, recognize that short exercise bouts performed throughout the day also have many benefits, and the latest research indicates the benefits not only enhance blood flow and muscle growth but also affect brain health.
Neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that affect mood and your emotional state are improved with even moderate levels of exercise. According to Harvard psychiatrist and author John Ratey, MD, who wrote Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. “As we exercise, brain cells are pushed to release more neurotransmitters — so they act like Prozac and Ritalin at just the right dose.”
Take Frequent Short Breaks
Recognizing that the work-task list grows as the day moves forward, it may be wise to set an alarm at least every 60 to 90 minutes and integrate mini exercise breaks into your tasks. Consider moving into the chair pose while you are talking on the phone.
For the pose, stand in front of a chair, tighten your belly, bend at the waist and push your bottom backward, as if you were going to sit down. Hold that pose for 30 seconds. Alternatives while talking on the phone include standing and performing alternating side steps or sitting down and placing a ball (like a volleyball) between your knees and holding for 10 – 15 seconds, repeating throughout the call.
Throughout the day, take short breaks to perform seated overhead presses, using heavier items on your desk, or weights if you have them. Standing up every 30 – 40 minutes and performing shoulder blade squeezes for 10 –15 reps can also give you a break from sitting and help to maintain good posture and improve your focus as well as your ability to breathe by stretching small accessory breathing muscles located at the front of your neck and shoulder.
Don’t Forget Facial Exercise
It’s wise not to forget the stress and tension that affect your facial muscles, suggests Arthur Wilson, a marketing manager for Workstars. Find his suggested exercises at workstars.com/recognition-and-engagement-blog/2021/01/13/23-exercise-ideas-and-tips-for-remote-workers.
Even More Tips
It is possible to perform mini workouts from head to toe during your remote workday.
Other suggestions that may be helpful to keep both your brain and your body fresh include: start your day dressed in workout clothes as this eliminates the need to change clothes if you want to transition to a walk or run outside, consider a walking meeting where you use meeting time to take a quick walk as a way to increase your overall step count for the day, or download the 7-Minute Workout app (the orange app) that is free and requires no special equipment. The app provides multiple types of workouts that include seven different video exercises and includes a clock that tracks both your active and your rest time.
Exercise is a positive habit with rewards and benefits that outweigh your time invested. If you start with even two to three seven-minute exercise breaks per workday, you will be surprised at the amazing benefits that you will realize in just a few weeks. Let today be the first day of transformation, not only into a more productive employee but also a move towards a better you in 2023!
SANDRA’S DAILY DOZEN
Note: It is vital to drink 8 to 10 ounces of water several times throughout the day to stay hydrated.
Begin the Day Blaster
• March or jog in place (60 seconds)
• Standing shoulder blade squeezes (30 seconds)
• Desk/counter push-ups (alternate: wall push-ups) (45 – 60 seconds)
• Static rear lunges at desk (30 – 45 seconds)
• Standing glute/butt kicks (60 seconds)
• Air squats (squat with glute/butt taps to chair) (45 seconds)
• Desk/counter bent knee shoulder dips (30 – 45 seconds)
• Kneeling overhead triceps/back of arm extensions (30 – 45 seconds)
• Kneeling hip abduction—lateral leg lifts (30 seconds on each side)
• Seated overhead presses (45 – 60 seconds)
• Standing back extensions (30 – 45 seconds)
• Lateral lunges at desk (30 – 45 seconds)
Story and photography by Sandra M. Elliott
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2023
Posted by LasCruces.com