One of the biggest shocks for me, when I left work to freelance/study, was how much weight I put on. Now if that isn’t real I don’t know what is! The point being, that amongst the many things people told me about going freelance (the good and the bad), no one really mentioned anything about physical health and exercise.
Even though I was working in retail before, I did spend a lot of my time at a desk. I didn’t really think a lot would change. What I didn’t realise though, is that I also spent a lot of time up and down the stairs doing various tasks. I then did four short walks throughout the day as part of my commute.
It now makes sense that all of this adds up to a lot more movement than working from home. Sitting at a desk all day is something that many people do, but more so if you work with computers.
If you work from home and have control of your own hours, the temptation to sit at your desk even longer can be strong. We have all had those days where inspiration strikes and you just have to run with it. Spending 14 hours typing and staring away at a screen only moving when nature calls (or you get particularly hungry).
Even though freelance working is one of the most flexible jobs in the world, it is still as hard as ever to find the time to look after your health. When we are in control of our own hours, we become hyper-aware of every hour spent not working. So it is hard to not feel guilty about going for a swim or doing some yoga when you could technically be progressing your career.
Why should we move?
It is important to move at least once every day. Even though it seems like there is never the time, it will make you work far more efficiently in the long run.
Regular exercise gets the blood flowing to the brain to increase productivity and keep your thoughts clear and ideas focused.
Moving your body and eating well also helps you to sleep better. Which is useful, as staring at a screen all day can actually make it pretty difficult to switch off and fall asleep.
Studies have shown that sitting on your bum (as a scientific way of putting it) for extended periods of time can lead to all kinds of health problems. Things such as higher risk of obesity and heart disease. Even if you are regularly exercising, it is the accumulation of time spent sitting that is still damaging to your health. The NHS website has more information here and there is a really informative video here.
How you can easily overcome the hurdles of fitting in enough exercise
One of the things that make exercise seem so hard, is the habit of moving from the computer screen to your phone screen as soon as you have a break. Before you know it your 5 minutes of Instagram time has turned into an hour of watching elaborate makeup reviews on Youtube. Even though the last time you wore colourful eyeshadow was when you were 16. Yes, it is still fun, but it also means you feel the need to then jump straight back to work. Another hour or two passes and you realise you have been sat in the same chair without moving for half the day. No wonder you feel sluggish – I know I do.
Now that we have outlined why moving is so beneficial, here are some of my favourite ‘tried and tested’ ways of breaking up your working day, to incorporate more movement and activity.
Get yourself a standing desk
Now I know we can’t all afford a standing desk, or even have the room for it. If you can though I would definitely look into it. I have yet to make this particular purchase, but I have used a makeshift setup of books and boxes to raise my computer screen. It can be awkward to DIY it, but the difference it makes when trying to concentrate is pretty big. Unless you are incredibly tired, it is very difficult to fall asleep standing up, therefore your brain stays more alert. It also helps to improve circulation, which is one of the main reasons to give it a go.
If you don’t want to splash out just yet, they also do easy pop-up cardboard laptop risers on Amazon for a fraction of the cost. A good way to see if you like it, before making a larger investment purchase.
Incorporate short but regular bursts of movement
First of all, the best thing to do is make small changes and slowly build them up to form habits over time. If you decide to start jogging on the spot every hour for 10 mins then you are not only going to wear yourself out but also get very very bored. Instead, try getting up to do small chores like putting a load of washing on. Our washing machine is in the lovely dark cellar so that’s two flights of stairs to get the blood flowing back to the brain. You end up killing two birds with one stone, by completing mundane tasks and fitting in your exercise.
Once you have got into the habit of moving regularly throughout your day, you can start to incorporate more variety. Such as challenging yourself to see how many squats you can do, or as I mentioned earlier, jogging on the spot!
I have 3 different ways you can remind yourself to do these tasks;
- The first being obvious, set a reminder on a phone/laptop to go off every hour.
- The next is fitness trackers. I personally use the Leaf by Bellabeat, but most fitness trackers and wristbands have similar functionality. You set them to buzz when you have been sitting for too long, as a gentle reminder to move.
- Finally – and probably my favourite – is using the Pomodoro technique.
If you haven’t heard of it before, the Pomodoro technique is where you split your work into easy and digestible time slots (named after the Italian word for the tomato kitchen timer owned by the inventor Francesco Cirillo) with short breaks in between. Each of these segments is around 25mins of ‘work’ followed by a 5 min ‘break’. Every round of 4 segments is followed by a slightly longer break time of 25 minutes.
The idea behind this is that it is much easier to wrap your head around focusing on 25-minute blocks than it is for many hours. The other great thing about it is that each little break can be used as a reason to stand up and move away from your desk. It doesn’t have to be exercise every single time, but just the effort of standing up will help to break up your overall sitting hours throughout the day. There are loads of apps that help you use the Pomodoro technique, most of which are free. I use the Focus Keeper one.
Drink plenty of water
Drink a glass of water for every caffeinated beverage. In winter, I drink tea like it’s going out of style. A lot of the time I only do this because my hands are cold so hot water is great if you need something warm.
By drinking plenty of water, you will not only keep yourself hydrated, but you will also have to move more to replenish your glass – and go to the loo!
Sit on an exercise ball
This a fairly common one these days. Although there is some dispute as to whether this really helps combat the sitting, it is always worth a try. Using an unstable surface means you have to engage your core muscles to stay upright. I have found that this really helps to switch things up a bit. Just make sure that when you do, you don’t start to slouch, as this can do more harm than good. If you are getting tired you are probably best to sit back on something with back support. However, an hour or so a day can really help to improve your core muscles and give you a break from a chair!
Make your workouts relevant to what you do every day.
Doing your regular ‘full length’ exercise sessions is still really important if you want to stay healthy. You can take this one step further, by utilising your this time for maximum benefit when sitting all day.
This includes incorporating lots of strength moves for the legs and core. By increasing the muscle tone in your legs, circulation will improve. Blood can then be pumped back up to your heart more efficiently. Even when you are sitting down. Doing exercises to improve the core and back muscles, will enable you to maintain good posture at your desk. This can reduce the chance of back injury and neck pains.
Also, anything that releases tension and stretches out your muscles is great. Things like yoga positions that directly counteract how you have been sat such as Cobra, Plank and Legs up the Wall.
I have created a printable version of this post outlining the five things I have mentioned here. You can print it out for free and pin it somewhere you will see every day. Use it as a gentle reminder, that your health should always come first. In the long run, it will improve your work focus too!
I hope this has helped to give you ideas on how to incorporate exercise into your day to day life.
Extra tools and resources mentioned in this post
I would love to know what you do to move every day. Do you do anything extra that I have missed? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @lucylouminous.
*Some links are affiliate links. If you do not wish to use these, simply search for the product in a new browser window!