• Claire Callaghan

Home working? Stop feeling sluggish, be pain free

Who'd have thought so many of us would be working from home? Many have embraced the change, despite the stress of balancing home and work life and the lack of social mixing at work. With dwindling daylight, the loss of the normal punctuation of the day and week with regular activities and, possibly other stresses associated with the pandemic and lockdowns, it's not surprising we might feel fatigued!

A survey from Institute for Employment Studies showed over half of respondents had increased neck, shoulder and back pain during the first 2020 lockdown(1). Data from the British Journal of Sports Medicine (2) and recent British government statistics (3) also shows that in the UK, as gyms shut and commuting ceased, a third of adults did significantly less exercise. At the same time, self reported anxiety rose. Times of change do present an opportunity though, with a third of people doing more exercise.Want to seize the day and feel better? Hre are tips to get you through to Christmas.


1. Be on the front foot

Be proactive. If you have a health condition, ensure you have your prescribed medicines available. Specialised exercises keep us healthy, so if you know you are predisposed to back pain, try a pilates or yoga class online. Strengthening classes are great for sporty people who are prone to injury.


Online exercise classes can keep you on track, treat and prevent injuries

2. Sit well

Slumped with the laptop on the couch? You might get away with it for a day, but it will cause neck and bach ache if you do it weeks on end. Set your desk up as best you can, adopt a good sitting posture while home working, take regular breaks to stretch your legs and do desk-based exercises and stretches if you can’t get up. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy outline great postural tips and desk-based stretches for workers (4).



Effectively chained to the desk while completing tasks? Here are 3 of my favourite stretches - work out while you work! Hold for up to 30 seconds if you can, and do up to 10 times. No number or length of hold is too small though, any change in position helps!

Desk based stretches to keep you moving

3. "Sitting is the new smoking," so make a move

Too much sedentary time increases risk of cardiovascular disease (linked to heart attacks and strokes), type 2 diabetes and some cancers, such as lung cancer, bowel and breast cancer (5). Conversely, being active reduces stress and increases productivity and creativity.

If, like me, you have found changes to the routine and blurring of the lines between work and home life hard, perhaps having exercise at the same time each day or taking a break may help. There's been a rise in the "fake commute" - an trip out of the house which may mimic your commute, for a walk, to pick up a coffee, have a cycle or a run, at the time of day you would have previously been travelling to and from work. I love doing this to maintain a semblance of 'normality' and contact with the outside world.


4. Manage your mind

"Being active" is one of the 5 pillars of mental wellbeing, developed by the New Economics Foundation, are widely recognised and adapted by the NHS and the mental health charity MIND (6). Alongside connecting with others, continuing learning, taking notice of our surroundings and giving are inextricably linked with our congitive function, mental health and ability to perform well at work. Manage your mood with getting natural light in the winter, perhaps by positioning yourself near a window and getting outside, even briefly.



5 pillars of mental wellbeing, adapted from the New Economics Foundation Publication (6).

4. Jump around

It’s recommended that we do 30 minutes a day, five days a week, but this can be broken up into 10 minute chunks. It can give you an energy boost if you’re flagging and improves sleep quality when needing rest. Higher intensity exercise has a greater impact on our cardiovascular health and running, jumping or hopping activities are best for building strong bones. If you're deciding what to do, start with something you enjoy or that fits into existing routines. You are more likely to stick with it!

For some exercise ideas and classes, see the NHS fitness studio.

Do your staff need a session on Physical and Mental Wellbeing? I work both as an independent consultant and with the Wellbeing@Work Collaborative to deliver sessions on physical health, exercise and wellbeing for home workers. Recent clients include University of Bristol, Insurance firms and teaching institutions. Contact me directly for details.


(1) https://www.employment-studies.co.uk/resource/ies-working-home-wellbeing-survey

(2) https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/54/20/1183

(3) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wider-impacts-of-covid-19-on-health-monitoring-tool/wider-impacts-of-covid-19-on-health-summary

(4) https://www.csp.org.uk/publications/do-you-sit-desk-all-day-leaflets

(5) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/physical-activity-guidelines-uk-chief-medical-officers-report

(6) https://neweconomics.org/2011/07/five-ways-well-new-applications-new-ways-thinking