March 25, 2021

How to stay active when you’re working from home

By Chantel Nowak and Andrée-Anne Guénette

Now that working from home is your daily routine, are you less active than you’d like to be? Here’s how you can make sure you get enough exercise when you don’t leave the house.  

Have you been working from home since COVID-19 disrupted our lives back in March 2020? You’re not alone. 

According to a survey conducted last July, 59% of Canadian employees now work remotely. Only 1 in 5 employees want to return to the office full time once the pandemic ends.  

If you don’t have a good work space at home, your body could end up paying the price. Stéphane Fournier is a physiotherapist and the owner of Accès Physio. He’s seen a 25% increase in patients with neck, wrist, shoulder and lower back pain. Why? The effects of working from home. “Going from office to home creates ergonomic stress that’s hard on the body. Especially if you’re less active than usual.”

How do you get ready for your work-from-home day?

Do all the things you would normally do before heading to the office: 

  • Stick to your normal wake-up routine. Have a shower, brush your teeth, put on some comfortable work clothes, etc.
  • If you can, set up your desk space away from other people and high-traffic areas like the kitchen.  
  • Determine the start and end time for your workday, and stay true to it. Turn your computer off at the scheduled time. Put your computer away, and out of sight if you can.
  • Eat your meals and snacks (healthy ones of course) away from your computer. If time is an issue, make your lunch and snacks in the morning, as if you were going to the office.

How do you set up a comfortable workspace?

Here are the essentials for an ergonomic workspace according to Stéphane Fournier:

  • A surface high enough to work with your elbows at a 90-degree angle;
  • An office chair with armrests;
  • A monitor at eye level (you can raise it up on a support or a stack of books);
  • A separate mouse and keyboard if you’re using a laptop. 

Stéphane also points out a good workspace doesn’t have to be expensive. “Working from home is here to stay, so it’s an investment that will pay off over time. Are you saving money because you’re no longer going out for lunch or commuting to work? Put some of those savings toward your home office.”

Adjustable desks that allow you to work either standing or sitting are an option. While you’re standing, rest one foot on a block or box that’s about the height of a step. That will balance your weight so that you don’t tilt your hips. Switch feet regularly, when your body tells you it’s time.

Why is it important to move during the day?

Since you don’t need to go out, it’s easy to become sedentary when working from home. However, “the human body is meant to move – it’s not a myth!” Stéphane Fournier reminds us. 

Physical inactivity is a leading cause of disease and disability. A sedentary lifestyle can: 

  • double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity;
  • increase the risk of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, depression and anxiety. 

In fact, being too inactive can be as bad for your health as smoking. The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week with each session lasting at least 10 minutes. 

Physical activity is good for your mental health too! According to the Canadian Psychological Association, the mental health benefits of physical activity include:

  • reduced day-to-day stress; 
  • increased happiness and self-esteem.

5 ways to stay active when working from home

1. Use that extra time in the morning to get moving.

Tori Taylor, a Certified Personal Trainer from Kitchener, does just that. “I get up at the same time I would if I were going to the office. Instead of using the time to get ready, I work out at home. I used my personal spending account from work to buy myself home gym equipment. I use kettlebells, resistance bands and a yoga mat.”

YouTube and other free apps have loads of workout videos that require little or no equipment. Choose an activity that you enjoy and are motivated to do. Or use the time to go out for a brisk walk. Then you can sit down to work. 

2. Get up and stretch every hour

Fournier suggests setting a timer to help you remember to stand up every hour. “As you’re standing, put your hands on your buttocks. Then, lean your upper body backwards until you feel tension, but not pain.” 

What are some other ways to get moving? 

  • Walk up and down the stairs a few times.
  • Stretch your arms and wrists, roll your shoulders back and move your legs.
  • Walk from room to room a few times.
  • Dance to your favourite song between meetings. 
  • Strike a few yoga poses.  

3. Go outside for a walk at least once a day.

Set aside at least one hour every day to go for a walk. Block the time off so you don’t schedule a meeting at the same time. “Ideally, you should plan to walk at least 15 minutes twice a day,” Stéphane Fournier advises. 

If your job allows, try walking meetings, either by yourself or with a colleague or client. 

4. Set realistic and measurable goals.

“We know that 80% of people stick to their resolutions if they have a structured approach,” Stéphane Fournier adds. Make changes that are realistic, achievable and short. Keep in mind that the pandemic isn’t going away any time soon. You’ll come out ahead by looking after yourself! Framing it this way this might give you the motivation you need to get going.”

Break down your goals into smaller ones. Is your goal to run 5K run by the end of the summer? Then increase your distance or running speed a bit at a time. 

5. Get inspired by your friends and social networks.

“Challenges” of all kinds are big on social networks like TikTok and Instagram. “These short three-week challenges are perfect. That’s all the time you need to develop a new habit,” Stéphane says. “An added bonus is the motivation you get from friends and coworkers when you commit together.” 

Whether you take on a plank challenge or 10,000 steps a day, anything you can do to get moving is a good thing. 



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