How to Avoid Becoming Sedentary While Working and Learning from Home

February 2021

You’ve heard all the warnings from health experts about becoming too sedentary while working (or learning) from home. Yet, as we approach the one-year mark of the onset of Covid-19 lockdown in our country, getting out of the house and into your office, school, or any other remote locale daily, still seems like a remote possibility. Families have done their best to carve out a niche for every member to occupy their own private workspace, but this can mean your teen is learning virtually from her bedroom, while hubby sits at the kitchen island, and you take a conference call in the closet…all because your 12-year-old has back-to-back Zoom calls in the home office. Families are going above and beyond to be sure everyone has their own space, but how can we make sure that (perhaps 6×6) space doesn’t confine us. Fortunately, many experts have offered guidance on keeping active in small spaces, and how to avoid the pitfalls of becoming too sedentary, while we tackle our daily responsibilities from behind a screen.

Keeping frequently used household items out of reach, is an easy way to ensure you get up and move during your day.Force yourself to walk across the room or to another area of the house to refill your water, sharpen your pencil, or grab more printer paper. It may seem counterintuitive, but even when you are pressed for time, those extra 30 seconds won’t impact your performance in the end.

Get up and move, at least every hour, is another tip experts agree on. Set an alarm or timer on your phone, and take a brisk walk around the block, or even jog up and down a few flights of stairs. If you’re occupied when your alarm rings, try walking in place, or doing a few air squats, and then move a bit more when you get a chance. Keeping exercise equipment nearby also helps. Grab those hand weights and churn out a few curls to get your blood flowing. Even stretching or a few yoga poses work to break up the monotony of sitting and get circulation going. No equipment? Take a tip from Penn Medicine, and drop to the floor for a few push-ups or sit-ups. Again, the goal is just to move and get the blood flowing.

Setting aside time for daily exercise is important no matter where your work happens. It just seems more difficult to choose a time and commit to it when your day is not as scheduled as it once was. Where previously, we might have attended a Pilates class at 7:00 am, before our 9:00 meeting, or planned on a run around 5:00 pm, as our daily activities began to wind down, we now think, “Oh, I’ll just squeeze that workout in whenever I get a bit of down-time.” Often, that down-time never happens, and neither does the workout. Although a one-hour workout will not cancel out the negative effects of sitting at a desk all day, it’s important to keep to your daily exercise regimen, especially during these times.

The Mayo Clinic suggests scheduling your workouts like you would any other appointment, by adding it to your calendar, and alerting others that you will be unavailable during that time. Scheduling a virtual workout (or in-person if you feel comfortable), through a gym or a studio, or making a plan with a friend, will also increase the chances you won’t flake. Of course, you want to stay flexible as well. If a Zoom call runs over, don’t ditch your workout altogether. Squeeze in a run or a brisk 30-minute walk or take that conference call on the treadmill; something is better than nothing. Or replace your daily morning commute with a walk to the local coffee shop, and eventually, you won’t think twice about bundling up to brave those 30° mornings.

And what about those standing desks? According to the Cleveland Clinic, standing desks are a good option, but should be combined with other tactics to fight inactivity.Standing alone will not help to combat the negative effects, such as diabetes and heart disease, that prolonged sitting can cause; you need to be an “active sitter or stander.” As a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows, small movements, such as fidgeting while standing, increase energy expended by 38% over sitting, as opposed to standing motionless, which showed just an 8% increase. For some, a standing desk will incite a greater tendency toward movement since you won’t have to heave your body in and out of the chair as often to move around. But, if you are still not sold on the benefits of a standing desk, using an exercise ball as a chair is another option. Balancing on a ball keeps your muscles engaged, helps with correct posture, and makes small movements easier to work into your time seated.

Most importantly, as with any other adjustment to your daily routine, make moving a habit. As the COVID-19 virus invaded our communities, and social distancing practices were enforced, the daily activity rate of citizens worldwide decreased, in some areas by up to 26%, as published in the American College of Physicians Journal. Daily habits of commuting, walking the kids to school, or just running about doing errands on the weekends were brought to a halt, and replaced with the sedentary activities of telecommuting, Zoom calls and curbside pick-up. And although it was nice at first to slow the pace of our hectic lives, these daily habits kept us active without really having to think much about it. In response to the drastic change in our lifestyles that COVID-19 has brought on, we need to focus on creating new habits that flow with our new routine. After a month of daily practice, you will be up and out of your chair without even having to hear that hourly alarm.