Our Struggles to Stay Healthy While Working From Home

Recently in a Slack chat we discussed how we try and stay healthy while working from home. We all have different methods, some have been consistent and dedicated to staying fit and healthy, some not so much.

We’ve all decided that we’re going to “air our laundry” with this post, whether it’s clean or not, and make a commitment to ourselves and each other to improve our physical and mental health in the coming year.

Read on to see how each of our team feels about their health, the challenges they face keeping healthy while working from home, and what changes if any they intend to make in 2016.

Ash

This year there has been big changes to my lifestyle. Not only is it the first time I’ve worked remotely, but it’s also my first year out of the military, after serving nearly 6 years in the Royal Air Force. I’ve literally gone from hardly ever being at home to being there the majority of my time, which is awesome, but not without its own challenges. Discipline and motivation being the biggest ones.

Keeping up with my fitness has been my biggest downfall this year. I’ve never really enjoyed cardio, who does?! In the military, fitness is very much ingrained into the lifestyle so you could never get away from it. In addition to squadron runs and circuits, I would hit the gym 4-5 times a week of an evening. Keeping fit was easy. There was always someone to motivate you and we were all very competitive. Now that I work from home the only person I have to compete with is myself and lack of motivation prevents me from doing so. I have had short periods of regular running, T25 and kettlebell workouts, but they’ve never lasted more than a couple of months. That needs to change!

Drinking coffee became a bad habit of mine towards the start of the year. Regular headaches were common, which I put down to too much caffeine. I’ve since started drinking a lot more water and moved to decaf, and I feel a lot better for it.

My goal for 2016 is to become more consistent in regards to exercise and run at least 20k per week. Granted, it’s not a massive target, but enough to keep my base fitness level up. If anyone else is up for the challenge, you can find me on Strava.

Brad

I’ve always been very active. I played a ton of sports growing up: ice hockey, baseball, tennis, swimming, cycling, and golf. In college, I got into ultimate (frisbee).

These days not getting p0wned on the field, on the ice, and on the courts is my main motivation for staying fit. I travel to ultimate tournaments across Canada and the US to compete, so dogging it on the field not only lets myself down, it lets my teammates down. For the past few years I’ve been tweaking a 20 minute high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine that I can do daily before lunch. I’ve had lapses where I don’t do it for a couple of days, but mostly I’ve stuck with it.

Six months ago I decided to give yoga a try. Most of the yoga for beginners videos I found on YouTube were very….I’ll say silly. I don’t dig the narrative or tone of most yoga instructors. For example, an instructor saying “Feel the energy flowing to your fingertips” in a soft voice just seems so phony to me. Anyways, I ended up searching “yoga for men beginner” on YouTube and found a series of videos by Sean Vigue. He’s a little goofy and does some upselling, but no soft voice phoniness.

After weeks of doing his videos, I ended up buying his book, Power Yoga for Athletes. I’ve been using that exclusively as I prefer setting my own pace rather than going at the video’s pace. It’s also nice to not have a screen on. Overall it’s been great. I’ve been progressing fast, doing more difficult poses, and greatly improving flexibility. It feels really good after doing a session, so much so that I get annoyed when there’s a day I can’t do one.

In a typical week I’ll have 3 days where I do 20 mins of yoga and 2 days where I’ll do 20 mins of HIIT. I’ll play 2 matches of tennis and a hockey game. In the summer, I’ll head to the nearby soccer field and do some ultimate (frisbee) running drills before lunch a couple of days.

A few years ago I bought an Ergotron sit/stand desk and while it’s definitely not a beautiful piece of furniture it works well and I’ve been very happy with it. I try to alternate every hour between standing and sitting. A couple of months ago I splurged on a new fully-adjustable chair, replacing the crummy cheap one I’d been using. Both desk and chair have definitely been worth the investment.

As for food, we eat pretty healthy. I cook 3 nights per week, my wife cooks 3 nights, and we do takeout 1 night. I enjoy cooking. I find it’s a great way to wind down after a day of work, listen to a podcast, and switch out of work mode before my wife and kids get home. Last night I cooked fish and chips from scratch, breading the cod with crushed corn chips, hand cutting potatoes into fries, making tartar sauce, and serving with a side of corn. Nothing fancy but tasty and pretty healthy.

Five years ago I figured out that I’m celiac (allergic to gluten) and that was a huge adjustment. I went from eating half a loaf of bread a day to eating rice cakes (blah). I absolutely loved bread and beer, but had to give them up. (I do eat gluten-free bread and drink gluten-free beer now that it’s available, but it’s far from the same.) I saw a big improvement in stamina from this adjustment. I used to always hit the wall when playing a full-day of ultimate no matter how well I ate and stayed hydrated. After cutting out gluten I can play a full-day in the sun and heat without cramping up. A huge improvement.

In 2016 I’d like to maintain my eating habits and level of activity. But with my kids getting more involved in sports themselves, it may be more challenging than it sounds to maintain my level of activity.

Gilbert

I’ve been working from home for more than four years now and while it is great and has many benefits, I find getting the motivation to get out of the house a battle at times. Fitness has been a bit of an issue for me for a long time. Not that I am badly unfit (I’m naturally quite a fit and sporty person) I just struggle to make time to do regular exercise. So what do I (try to) do to stay healthy?

  • I play football once a week for 2 hours on an outdoor pitch. When I was at school I played lots of sports but after I went to University that all stopped. This is my attempt at having some regular “exercise”. I don’t like gyms and so tend to avoid them.
  • I try to go on regular walks with my wife in the area around my house. We’re fortunate enough to live on the back of a nice woods with lots of dog walks which makes it a bit easier to just get out and go for a walk. We also live 5 mins from the beach which is nice in the summer.
  • I am pretty disciplined about my work hours. I try to work 9am – 5:30pm every day and leave my home office for the rest of the night once I’m finished. This helps me separate “personal” and “work” space in a helpful way mentally. I also have a proper desk and an ergonomic office chair to help my posture.
  • I’ve never been into “dieting” as I quite enjoy lots of different types of food, however I do try and keep my meals healthy and keep snacking to a minimum. My intake is pretty lean as I don’t drink much alcohol, don’t smoke (except the occasional cigar) and don’t drink loads of coffee.
  • There have been some widespread rumours that I’m a robot, and if that’s the case, that probably helps too 😉

At the moment that’s how I try and keep a physically healthy and mentally balanced lifestyle. We’re due to have our first child in March next year so we’ll see how much of the above changes at that time.

Iain

This post has come at a good time for me. I have spent the last year adjusting to life as a new dad whilst being a remote worker. Needles to say, that adjustment has resulted in a big drop in looking after my health and fitness.

Before my son was born I used to visit the gym a few times a week, have bouts of regular running, and played tennis and football. I also used to make a concerted effort to eat well. But all of that has gone out the window, overtaken by family time, work (work and more work), renovating and moving house, and most importantly the need for sleep.

It’s time to redress the balance in my life, and this post will serve as both a checklist and promise to myself to make that happen. So January will see a change for me – how clichéd, I know.

  • Moving house will result in living 5 minutes walk from a gym. This means I can break up my morning of work with a jog to the gym and a weights session.
  • The beach will be a 10 minute drive away, so running along the beachfront with my wife and son in the buggy can be a reality, of which we both need to motivate each other to fulfil.
  • I’ve splashed out on a fancy standing desk from IKEA to help break up periods of sitting.
  • Last year we experimented with the Paleo diet for 2 weeks and were impressed with the numerous benefits we saw, such as increased energy, weight loss, and better sleep. This is something I want to implement all the time in 2016.

I hope I can turn these good intentions into habits in the new year. Let’s do this!

Ian

For a long time fitness was never an issue for me, I always seemed to be healthy and reasonably lean, especially as an active kid and later at University where I took to mountain biking big style. Then I started working full time as a contract developer at various sites around the UK, met a lady daft enough to eventually marry me, we had a beautiful daughter. All the while I got less and less active, and ate worse and worse while working long hours on bigger and bigger projects for my clients. My health took a toll, and “suddenly” I had a nice round stomach, noticed I was struggling for breath at the top of the stairs and finding my knees ached pretty much all the time. I was overweight and unfit, and thoroughly annoyed at myself for letting go of my health.

I got into the habit of weighing myself once a week, which to me is long enough between measurements that you should see a meaningful difference if you’re trying to make a change. But alas, nothing changed permanently, little wins would be followed by lapses in focus on my health as other things took precedence.

Then in early 2011 I started to hear about Paleo, and eventually after deep diving into it and checking it out thoroughly (I wanted to make sure it was a sustainable lifestyle as I’m very anti fad diets etc, so had to make sure it had real scientific merit), I transitioned myself over to Paleo in the course of 2 weeks at the end of July.

After those first 2 weeks I realised that my knees weren’t hurting any more, and as time went on felt more and more energetic, less bloated, and generally healthier. At this time I wasn’t even doing any real exercise apart from the occasional round of golf, Paleo just worked for me. From a high of 203lb (14.5st) I steadily lost 1 or 2 pounds a week until I reached my long term goal of 168lb (12st) at the end of the year.

Ian's Weight Chart 2011

I’ve kept up a “lapsed Paleo” lifestyle ever since. By that I mean that I avoid cereal and processed foods, and generally eat meat, vegetables and fruit. I eat a cooked breakfast most mornings to keep the fat burning from the night before in effect until I eat more in the way of fruit etc. as a snack in the afternoon (I tend to skip lunch as my late breakfast fills me up). I do however have a tendency to enjoy a piece of cake as a treat now and then, as well as dark chocolate, and beer and wine. These treats are plenty enough that I don’t miss pasta, bread and other western diet staples at all.

However, I’ve put on a few pounds since 2011. At first that was an intentional move as I did actually dip down to 160lb which was way too far, I looked like a bobble head. 175-180lb is good for me, my wife doesn’t complain that I look ill at this weight and I feel good.

Now I often cycle with my daughter on a tandem trailer, go swimming with her, or just for a long walk somewhere nice with her a couple of times a week. These are usually my favourite days of the week and generally help counteract the effects of sitting at a desk for many hours per day, which can be hard on the back even with regularly getting up and going into the house for water or coffee. Just being out and about and chatting with my daughter is good for the soul too.

Before moving to New Zealand I used play squash semi-regularly with a friend. We were both terrible but it was a fun run-around that got me out of the house and got the blood pumping. When I got to New Zealand I joined a local squash club and started playing on the ladder league to make sure I kept up my fitness and got a little bit of socialising with real people every week, otherwise I feel I might go a little stir crazy now that I’m working from home. I’m still terrible at squash though.

I also used to play golf with another couple of friends once or twice a month back in the UK and had intended to join a club when I moved to New Zealand. Alas that never happened, and I kick myself for that as not only do I enjoy playing golf but it’s a good way of meeting people and socialising, something working from home greatly lacks.

For 2016 I need to pull back on the cake and chocolate a bit as I’ve recently put on a pound or 7 too many. Apart from that I’m just about to move back to the UK and I fully intend to join a squash club there once settled in, and a set of golf clubs is the only thing I’m going to tackle the post Christmas sales for!

Jeff

I’ve struggled with my weight for most of my life and today is no exception. I’m not naturally athletic (I’m more Comicbook Guy than Duffman), but I don’t shy away from hard work so weightlifting is something that I’ve found is a good way to ensure that I’m strong, mobile, and—hopefully—somewhat difficult to kill.

Currently I work out at the gym at least three days per week, doing a program that’s somewhere between StrongLifts and Starting Strength. I squat three days a week and deadlift, press, and bench either once or twice a week each, depending on where I am in the rotation. If you’re interested in barbell training, I highly recommend watching videos of Mark Rippetoe explaining proper form.

Mental health is also a very important part of this discussion for me. Physical activity and being outdoors helps to keep me calm, happy, and focused so besides the gym I will often take short breaks throughout the day to walk my two dogs, swing a kettlebell, practice archery, or ride my Boosted Board. I also try to do something like meditation as often as I can, utilizing apps like Calm and Pause to recharge for 10 or 15 minutes a day.

I used to cycle around 100 miles per week, but I’ve let my cycling practice fall to the wayside over the past year in favor of strength training. I probably couldn’t ride a century right now if you gave me the whole day, and that’s a shame – so one of my goals for 2016 is to get back into decent (for me) cycling condition.

Summary

As you can tell from the above contributions, we’re all at different stages of comfort with working from home and how it affects our physical and mental health.

We’ve each mentioned how we intend to either improve or maintain our health in 2016. Some of us already have challenges ahead that might derail our plans, others are likely to hit yet unknown obstacles to keeping healthy in the coming year. Regardless, we’re all going to support and encourage each other to keep healthy.

In about six months we’re going to review our progress and report back on whether we’re feeling better about our health or not, what helped and what didn’t, and how we’re going to tackle the rest of the year. We’ll all be meeting up at WordCamp Europe 2016 next year, a perfect time to celebrate the year so far.

Do you have any tips for keeping healthy while working from home? If so, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.

About the Author

Ian Jones

Ian is always developing software, usually with PHP and JavaScript, loves wrangling SQL to squeeze out as much performance as possible, but also enjoys tinkering with and learning new concepts from new languages.

  • Great post – reminds me I need to stop slacking!

  • Ulrich

    It nice to read about what other people are doing as remote workers. I have yet to work full time remotely but I have found it more difficult to have regular movement during the day. I get restless and my legs cramp up from sitting over long periods.

    I don’t struggle too much with doing daily exercise as I need after a day of work. Interestingly I also like to do 30 min intensive strength training with the a simple bar.

  • Thanks for this guys. I’m relating a lot to Iain here – the arrival of small people in our house has really messed things up for me. When my son was about 2.5 years old I was fortunate enough to find a really cheap office space about 3 miles from home, so I now have a regular commute that I TRY to do by bike as much as possible – it’s about 17-18 mins each way. This is now my main form of regular exercise.

    But other than that being committed to both work and family in big ways has dramatically reduced what time and energy I have for looking after myself. I’m not sure if this is something I can do something about now (it feels like I just can’t) or if I have another couple of years of this before getting a substantial-enough amount of “me” time back to get fit again.

    It’s tough! Thanks for sharing.

  • Wow could relate with Brad on this one 🙂 I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis 2 years ago and had to cut out gluten altogether as well. Been gluten-free for over a year (medication free for 7 months) and you do get a lot of energy back, but definitely an adjustment. Always encouraging to see other WP guys who are gluten-free or have tackled a disease that like.