With the transition to working from home and staying at home on weekends and after work, I have noticed an increase in the amount of people reporting lower back pain or neck pain. The first thing that I usually ask about is how adequate their home desk setup is and whether they are participating in their usual physical activity. For most this will usually shine light on why they might be experiencing more trouble than normal but for those who are continuing to complete their normal exercise routine and have a fantastic home desk set up, the answer is a little bit more blurred.
During the day, most of us are constantly moving, even those of you who think you may have a sedentary job. There is always printing to retrieve, colleagues to talk to, coffee to make and meetings to attend. This usually means that multiple times throughout the day you will be getting up and down, walking and moving. This is called incidental physical activity and is actually a big part of what keeps us moving and reducing our aches and pains. Incidental physical activity can be affected when we are working from home as everything we need is nearby and we do not really have to leave the house to get our morning coffee or join in on a meeting. The difference between normal physical activity and incidental physical activity is that your incidental physical activity encompasses activities of normal daily life such as taking the rubbish out, walking to work or cleaning, where we aren’t actually setting out to exercise for recreation.1
An editorial published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine late last year discussed the impact of incidental movement on our level of physical activity. In the past it was thought that movement had to be completed in a minimum of 10 minute blocks to ensure that adequate health benefits were achieved, however as of 2018 in the American Physical Activity guidelines, this doesn’t seem to be the case.1 The recent guidelines suggest that there is no minimum amount of time that activity has to be performed, as long as you get an increase in heart rate.1 Incidental physical activity can last from a few minutes such as climbing the stairs in your home to a few hours commuting or cleaning, and according to these guidelines, as long as the heart rate is up, so are your minutes of physical activity.1
Although there is no current published data yet to demonstrate the impact that working from home has had on both our aches, pains and activity, the reports I am hearing from many clients is that they are getting sore. The benefits of physical activity are well researched and published. Physical activity is used to manage and prevent lower back pain and neck pain and is more helpful than a great ergonomic set up alone. By reducing the amount of incidental movement throughout the day that you would normally do, you don’t give your body the chance to move, get your heart rate up and allow changes in your sitting and standing posture. Incidental movement as a result is something that is missing from many people’s working from home set up and attempts should be made to incorporate small movements and activities back into your routine.
To increase your level of incidental movement throughout the day, ensure that you have a set break time which requires you to get up and move to the kitchen. Eat your lunch or drink your coffee somewhere else in the house, not at your desk. Use the stairs if you can rather than the elevator when leaving your apartment or even change your work set up daily in different rooms and spaces.
- Stamatakis E, Johnson NA, Powell L, et al Short and sporadic bouts in the 2018 US physical activity guidelines: is high-intensity incidental physical activity the new HIIT? British Journal of Sports Medicine 2019;53:1137-1139.