Departments Health

Stand up for yourself

There are plenty of ways to get moving

Over the last two years, people who previously commuted to the office have joined the at-home workforce. Unfortunately, that additional time at home has turned into more sedentary time and, in turn, introduced some bad habits.

Without that daily commute, many people sit down at their desk first thing in the morning and don’t stop working until the evening, with little physical movement throughout the day. 

 “Working from home has increased daily work hours for many people, from skipping their breaks or working longer hours. All these changes mean more time spent at home, leading most of us to sedentary activities to occupy our time,” says Sarah Bleichert, a physiotherapist at Prairie Trail Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic in Winnipeg.

In January 2021, 32 per cent of Canadian employees aged 15 to 69 worked most of their hours from home, compared with 4 per cent in 2016, according to Statistics Canada.

 If your workday has you sitting for hours at a time, it’s important to make an effort to move throughout the day to avoid the negative health implications of being sedentary. In fact, breaking up long bouts of sitting with movement and exercise can boost your overall health and fitness.

Bleichert says a sedentary lifestyle is associated with an increased risk in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and increased muscle and joint pains. Studies consistently show that daily physical activity is important.

“Getting up and moving provides a physical and mental break from our sedentary tasks and helps manage stress,” she says. “I encourage and prescribe activity and exercise to my patients to help maintain a healthy lifestyle as well as improve their pain.”

 To improve your work-from-home environment, find an area of your home that’s comfortable and set yourself up with proper equipment.

“A comfortable chair that provides low back, shoulder and neck support with armrests, as well as allowing your feet to be firmly planted on the ground can be very helpful,” says Desiree D’Errico, a physiotherapist at Prairie Trail Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic. “Having your forearms and wrists in neutral with your keyboard is also beneficial.”

D’Errico also suggests a separate keyboard or desktop screen if working from a laptop is aggravating. Computer height is an important factor, she says, especially when it comes to neck or upper back discomfort—ensure your computer screen is at a height where your gaze falls to the center of the screen. 

For those who used to work in an office, you’re no longer walking to the printer, over to talk to a colleague or popping down the street for lunch. Due to everything in your home being in closer proximity, you’re naturally moving less.

“Our bodies are made to move. Just getting up for a quick walk or doing some stretching can boost alertness, productivity and focus and lower the risk of musculoskeletal injuries,” says Jamie Hall, chief operating officer at SAFE Work Manitoba, a division of the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) dedicated to the prevention of workplace injury and illness.

Musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs), sprains and strains make up the largest portion of injuries reported to the WCB. Pre-pandemic numbers show that 34 per cent of all injuries are related to an MSI concern, Hall says.

There are ways to increase movement during the day, both at the workplace and while working from home. Hall suggests taking phone calls standing up, holding walking meetings, setting up a reminder to get up and move and taking the stairs when possible.   

Taking these breaks from sitting during the workday can help counter some of the negative effects of extra sedentary time. Aim to stand for at least 15 minutes each hour—a sit-stand desk could help with this, a quick walk outside or pausing to grab a glass of water. The main goal is that you’re moving intermittently and varying your posture throughout the day to avoid strain.

“Ensuring a proper ergonomic setup at home can help keep employees comfortable and avoid strains and sprains. Sometimes, it’s as simple as adding a phone book or textbook under a monitor to increase the height to eye level,” says Hall. “Every employer needs to consider their employees’ psychological health and safety, perhaps now more than ever.”

With a little creativity, there are plenty of ways to get moving—both at home and at the office.

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