We’re passed those bizarre first few months of the Covid lockdown, but there are still limitations on our lives and livelihoods. What are the effects on our physical health as we continue to work from home, and how can we stay well and active?
Being active doesn’t have to be about making dramatic life changes, says Calgary personal trainer Tish Duffy of Train with Tish. “The small changes you make are the most significant ones. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing.” With 30 years of experience, Duffy coaches a predominantly female clientele in strength training.
Standing Room Only
For many, working from home has translated into a more sedentary lifestyle as we sit in front of the computer for hours on end. “Sitting is one of the worst things that we can do. It’s even worse than lying down,” says Duffy. It’s hard on the joints, it causes tightness in the hips that leads to pain in the lower back and calves, and it decreases the flow of blood and oxygen. Standing also burns twice as many calories as sitting.Set a timer and stand for 15 minutes every hour, at your laptop, etc. It’s so simple yet it will make a huge difference in how your body feels, your productivity, and your clarity.
Step It Up
Strive to take 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day, which can be divided into three 20 to 25 minute walks. A body in motion throughout the entire day will get people fitter and healthier than one hour of an organized fitness class and then slacking off the rest of the day. More energy is also burned with steps than doing a one-hour spin class, for example. There are many different ways to count steps, including free apps such as StepsApp. “I have clients that literally walk around their kitchen island at the end of the day to finish their 10,000 steps,” says Duffy. “It becomes an obsession for a lot of us. My husband and I compete in how many steps we’ve taken each day.”
It’s not necessary to convert your office into a full-blown gym but there are some key pieces of equipment that you can incorporate into a home workout. To achieve significant strength improvement, Duffy recommends buying a suspension trainer ($88), or the name brand TRX (over $200). It’s functional, it keeps your abs engaged, and the compound movements keep your heart rate up. Light and portable, the trainer can be mounted to a tree, hooked over a door, or mounted in your ceiling for a greater range of motion. You can also buy resistance bands ($12 each) and an exercise ball to support a few other movements. Sitting on an exercise ball for 10 to 15 minutes a day corrects posture and forces your legs and the small, core stomach muscles to stay engaged. All these pieces come with instructions and you can also learn workouts on Instagram and YouTube led by knowledgeable instructors. “People think they need the gym membership and the outfits. No, you don’t! You literally need some bands, an exercise ball, and the will to do it,” says Duffy.
Working from home has presented us with a unique opportunity to take advantage of, says Rory Hornstein, a registered dietitian specializing in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and sustainable weight loss. It’s significantly limited our eating out — restaurant dining takes away our control of portion sizes and the addition of high fat, sugary and salty ingredients — and picking up that Starbucks drink containing 45 grams of sugar. “It really is a much needed slow down,” she says.
Many people have found that it’s helpful to not work in or near the kitchen to prevent mindless grazing and to prepare their lunches ahead of time. Making a conscious effort to prepare nutritious, balanced meals reduces the likelihood of grabbing unhealthy processed snacks from the pantry.
“There were a lot of Nespresso deliveries during those first months of the pandemic,” laughs Hornstein, reminding us that too much caffeine ultimately causes headaches and anxiety. And, while delicious, those flavoured creamers are high-calorie. By keeping a water bottle nearby, the greater the chance you’re going to drink it.
Duffy emphasizes that if we do not keep our bodies strong as we get older, our long-term health and our independence can be taken away from us. After spending several years training the elderly population, she says the difference was shocking between people who’d made an effort to keep up with their fitness in their forties and fifties and those who did not. “When we have a strong body, we have a strong life.”
Prior to Covid-19, prolonged screen time was already at record highs. Now screen time has further increased with more people working from home and attending virtual meetings. “The human visual system is not designed to look at an artificially lit screen a few inches away from your face for hours at a time,” says Dr. Tom Wilk, co-owner of Mountain View Optometry in Calgary and Cochrane. “We don’t have the capacity for that and it’s a big stressor.” What’s developed over the few years is Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) with symptoms of blurry vision, headaches and eyestrain.
Here are some techniques to mitigate CVS:
- Ensure your screen is not positioned too close to your eyes, though distances will vary depending on screen size. If you’re using a small laptop, it will need to be closer. A larger monitor is recommended for longer screen time because it’s easier to see and can be positioned about an arm’s length away and slightly below your line of focus.
- Limit your daily non-essential screen time. Says Wilk: “If your work involves eight hours on a screen then don’t spend two hours on Pinterest after dinner!”
- Follow the 20/20/20 Rule. Every 20 minutes, look at a distance of 20 feet for 20 seconds. Eye muscles converge in order to focus on something at close range and they relax when looking far away. It’s important to routinely be looking into the distance throughout your screen sessions to lessen the strain that accompanies that close viewing posture.
- Optometrists recommend an anti-glare coating for glasses to block the blue light that’s emitted from computer screens. Because blue light is near the UV end in the vision spectrum, the hypothesis is that long-term chronic exposure to this harsh lighting can increase the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts, says Wilk.
There is, however, fairly substantial evidence showing that exposure to blue light can affect sleep patterns because it can alter circadian rhythms. Blue light protective lenses diminish your chances of having your sleep adversely affected by exposure to blue light from computer screens. Some contact lenses have an UV/blue light protection built in, but most do not.
Foggy Eye Glasses and Mask Wearing
For businesses that involve face-to-face interactions, a big challenge for people wearing masks and glasses is fogging. The simplest technique is having a well-sealed mask. Surgical masks with the small, bendable metal band have a sealable option over the top of the bridge of the nose that seals the air passageway to the glasses.
Ontario company Bright Optical’s FogBlocker wet and dry wipes are effective for removing fog. They offer a full day of fog-free mask wearing, and the company claims each dry wipe is good for up to 500 uses.
With the change in temperature as winter approaches, people should start thinking about how they’re going to deal with the issue of glasses and fogging to prevent any safety hazards.