How to create a healthy home office

Image of abandoned chair for standing desk blog

Before becoming a remote worker, I studied Swedish, myofascial, and sports massage. Then within 3 years of completing my studies, I had 2 kids and moved to a different country, which made it pretty hard to start scheduling in massages, so I placed aside the massage qualifications and decided to concentrate on my internet based, customer service skills for a while instead.

Now that I’ve been a remote worker for almost 2 years, I’ve found that my training is still coming in useful. Maybe not for sorting out other peoples’ aches and pains, but by applying my knowledge to myself by creating a healthy home office – and now, with you.

Whether you’re working from a home office, kitchen table, or on the beach (does anyone actually do that..?), chances are you haven’t thought through your set up as much as a company might. Or, to turn that around, having your own space means that you now have the freedom to work exactly however you like. And that means you can take charge of your health habits whilst working from home. There are plenty of ways to encourage good habits, but it’s easiest to first start simply so that they actually become part of your daily routine. Here are a few ideas;

Don’t be stationary

“Sitting is the new smoking” yada yada yada. If you’ve read that headline before, you probably heard that you should be standing all day. Thing is, standing isn’t the answer either. Movement is the solution we’re after, and standing became the popular, easy answer because it leads to movement. Shifting legs, propping one up, stretching, hopping, and, very importantly, being aware of your positioning. Unlike sitting, during which you can slouch all the way down until you melt into your chair, standing forces you to activate your muscles to remain upright and focussed.

Here’s my current setup:

 

 

Notice the different level chest of drawers underneath the shelves? I use those to prop up one foot or the other, switching between straight vs bent legs and rotating the angle in which I’m holding my leg.

They’re all varied movements and it’s nothing thought out – just whatever feels comfortable for the next minute or so. With the drawers conveniently placed, I can just throw a leg up without thinking it through. What you don’t want are repetitive movements, like say, a treadmill, but rather different positions, so your body is activating different muscles and nerves, and placing different loads on various places throughout the day.

Oh, and notice my desk set up? Two Ikea shelves, that’s it (P.S. – like my BBC News screensaver? Want one?). My current seating arrangement for when I’m a bit tired is a couch, but someone recently suggested a bar stool which is a brilliant idea. Another alternative is a large Swiss ball which will keep your body subtly working on balancing itself.

And of course, when you’re not hopping about or typing away with one leg raised up, go for a short walk. My office pooch, Conan the Barbarian, ensures that I do.

Remote office dog Conan the Barbarian

He wasn’t named Conan without good reason…

Bring your set-up to you

Are you starting to resemble a turtle with a hunched back and head pulling forward? Or maybe you’ve noticed your shoulders are feeling tight, or are even starting to click when you rotate them? During my brief time actually massaging clients, these were their two most common problems – and yet there are very straightforward ways to start tackling them.

Image of hunched over desk worker

You, at work?

 

When setting up your space, think about bringing your equipment towards you, rather than your body adjusting to your hardware. My Ikea shelves were placed very specifically, so that the shelf brings my screen to eye level, whilst the keyboard is in a comfortable typing position. By standing quite close to the shelves, I’m able to keep my shoulders back and down, rather than curling towards my front, with the bonus that I don’t have to crane my neck to see the screen clearly. It’s a comfortable set up, but more importantly, it maintains a better alignment and doesn’t cause my muscles to start lengthening or shortening in places they shouldn’t.

Drawing of good positioning for standing desk

(yep, I draw like a 2nd grader)

Release tension whilst working

If your workday has you feeling all stressed out (or, even if it doesn’t, do these anyway!), bear in mind that your muscles and more are also feeling it. There are small movements you can do which will help relieve the tension, and doing them whilst working alone from home won’t raise any eyebrows…

  • Roll a tennis ball, or if you want to make it harder, a golf ball, slowly underfoot with enough pressure that it’s uncomfortable
  • Prop the ball of your foot up on a towel to stretch the muscles running down the back of your legs
  • Let your head hang to either side for a minute each (assuming you can work sideways!)
  • Place your feet at varying heights – one at a time, of course – to stretch
  • Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, and release slowly
  • Whilst you’re sitting, place a tennis or lacrosse ball under either one of your bum cheeks and let it slowly sink in and stay there for a few minutes until it feels less uncomfortable

These movements actually target your fascia, which is a thin fibre that wraps around all your insides, all the way down to your cells. We often think of tightness in muscles, but tightness in fascia can be damaging as well. Keep it flexible and supple through movement – especially slow, extended movements in which a position is held before releasing.

I happened to be cooking some beef, so I got really excited and took a snap of fascia for you:

Photo of fascia to demonstrate what it is

By giving your fascia some slow stretching and massage, you’ll consequentially feel more flexible, have less constriction in your movements and won’t end the day with that stiff “I haven’t moved for the last 8 hours” after-work feeling.

Get a room with a view

You now have a great reason to set up office in a place with a beautiful view: apart from being good for the soul, it’s actually good for your eyes.

Why’s this? When your eyes are focussing on nearby objects, they’re actually in a contracted state. Imagine that your arm was grabbing a weight and holding it for 8 hours a day. Sounds exhausting, right? That’s what your eyes are doing as you zombie-stare at your screen. So give them a break by looking into the distance and whilst you’re at it, enjoy the view!

These are all simple changes that you can implement now, and will have fantastic consequences for your wellbeing, for your productivity, and for your health. So go on, grab a tennis ball, a towel, and a seat by the window. Get moving!

 

Photo by Ian Stannard

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