Staying active while working from home

Do you find that since you have been working from home, your physical activity has decreased? BASA offers guidelines to keep you moving throughout the day.

We have all heard the saying, “The only constant these days is change.” This can specifically refer to the changes that have been happening in our lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have constantly had to adapt and change our schedules and routines as we received guidelines from our national government.

One of these areas where all of us had to make changes was in our work environment. Our work environment moved from the offices to our homes; for some it was part-time and for others, it’s permanent.

This change has many implications on many aspects of our lives, some positive and some negative. It can influence our emotional, physical, social, phycological and economic status. It affects sleep and eating patterns, social patterns and even work patterns and, in general, a total change in lifestyle.

Work vs home

Being at home can result in an increased sitting time compared to when you would be in a work environment. Staying active in general does need strict and good discipline from a person. It’s easier to go to the gym or meet up with a friend for a walk after work, or to take frequent breaks while at the office. Yet, some people would argue that working from home allows them to be more active because it’s better to manage their time and slot in exercise.

However, research shows that there is a 28% increase in sitting time and a decrease in all levels of physical activity together with an unhealthy food consumption pattern.1 This was not only the result of working from home, but also due to the closure of fitness centres, open areas and public events like parkrun.

Recently too much sitting (sedentary behaviour) is seen as a separate risk factor for hypokinetic diseases (heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, etc) and not grouped with the lack of exercise. Too much sitting on its own increases risk factors for metabolic diseases and other co-morbidities.2 It’s associated with increased waist circumference, increased levels of fasting glucose and triglycerides, and lower levels of good HDL cholesterol. Research has shown a direct correlation between abdominal obesity (waist circumference) and sitting time.2

Working from home does show to increase sitting periods compared to a work environment.

Keep moving

Regular physical activity (PA) not only has health and physical benefits for our bodies but also helps them respond to the adverse effects of several diseases like diabetes, hypertension and other cardio, metabolic and pulmonary diseases.

According to The World Health Organisation, regular physical activity is seen as an accumulation of 150 min per week aerobic work or 30 min per day for five days at a moderate intensity.

Physical activity or exercise helps the support and functioning of the different systems in our bodies. Some of the benefits are:

  • An immediate benefit on brain function.
  • Helps with weight control and management of obesity.
  • Reduces health risks of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and certain cancers.
  • Strengthens bones and muscles and improves ability to do daily activities, and prevent falls, especially later in life.
  • Reduces the effects of old age and increase the chance of living longer.

Practical guidelines

Seeing that it’s to your benefit to be active on a regular basis, how can you become more active while working from home?

  • Establish a routine

It will help to set a specific time for your PA and to keep to that routine. Early mornings are still the best. If you’re just starting, or 30 min of exercise seems too long for you, it’s better to do two to three accumulated bouts of exercise of 10 min each.  Set this in your diary and treat it as an appointment. Learn to say to people you have an appointment.

  • Establish the exercises

Walking is still the cheapest and easiest exercise you can do. If you live in a neighbourhood where you can walk, a brisk walk is good. You can work in interval walking: two lampposts – walk fast, two lampposts  – walk slower and build it up to the longer periods for the quicker pace 3:2/4:2.

If you’re confined to flats or cluster accommodation or in an unfriendly neighbourhood, you need to get creative with exercises.

  1. Follow an aerobics/exercise class online – work out in front of the TV or use your phone. There are many platforms available or get an exercise programme from a biokineticist.
  2. If you pay for something you will tend to comply more regularly.
  3. If you live in a block of flats, climb the stairs. Stair climbing is beneficial for cardiovascular fitness and leg strength. Take frequent breaks and climb the stairs.
  4. Set out a circuit for yourself focusing on upper and lower body exercises. Here is an example: 

Example of a circuit routine

(this can be in a picture format on the page instead of writing)

  1. Walking on the spot – lift the knees/step-ups (1 min)
  2. Sit to stand from a chair (1 min)
  3. Push-ups (1 min)
  4. Side steps (1 min to left)
  5. Side steps (1 min to right)
  6. Crunches (1 min)
  7. Hip bridges (1 min)
  8. Standing calf raises (1 min)
  9. Repeat 2-3 times (30min)

These exercises can also be done in the breaks between sitting periods; you’ll only do 1-2 exercises for the 2-3 minute breaks.

  • Break up sitting periods

The one big secret is to break up your sitting periods with bouts of 1-3 min of physical activities throughout the day. Set your alarm for every hour and a half or two hours. Either then do step-ups for 1-3min, walking on the spot, or sit to stands from the chair, wall push-ups, wall squats or lunges and repeat this every hour and a half, or to two hours.

It will be of more value if you can add it on the 30 min a day, 4-5 breaks of 3 min activities throughout the day. At a certain point in our lives, the more we are active throughout a day is just as important as a continuous exercise session at a specific time of the day.

  • The higher the intensity for shorter bouts the better

You might have been doing the 30 min of exercise, but lately don’t feel or see the benefits. Increase either your duration (which with a busy schedule is difficult) or increase the intensity of your workout, plus add the extra 4-5 breaks with 3 min activities bouts throughout the day.

  • Start slow and build up

People get demotivated if they miss one session or if one day they don’t follow their routine. This is because they want to reach the optimal programme in a week. Rather start with activities two to three times a week or once a day and each week you build on that. Build with small increments.

  • Get an accountable partner

If you consult with a biokineticist, or regular personal trainer, they can easily check up on you. Otherwise, get a friend or colleague to participate with you at their home so that you can motivate each other. It takes up to six to eight weeks to establish a good habit. Schedule mini achievement celebrations with this partner and celebrate small victories.

  • Personalise your workout

There are many other exercises you can add if you’ve other equipment at home like balls and dumbbells. These are guidelines and it’s always better to ask a biokineticist to help with structuring exercises for you and to monitor the technique you use.

It would be best to say that exercise or physical activity prescription should ideally be individualised. If you want to know more or need more personal help, contact a biokineticist near you. Biokineticists are recognised health professionals who are concerned with exercise and the physical well-being of patients. They use scientific exercise programme prescription which is individualised as a treatment modality. In short, we prescribe exercises to increase or maintain your health.

To find out more about biokinetics and to find a biokineticist near you, visit

This article was written on behalf of the Biokinetics Association of South Africa.

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