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How to thrive in a work-from-home environment

How to thrive in a work-from-home environment
Photo: Aoife Casey, physiotherapist and Pilates instructor
Millions of Australians are now working from home despite a slow return to 'normal' following a decline in COVID-19 cases. But is working from home good for our health?

While not everyone has an ergonomic setup or space for the perfect home office, it's still possible to survive and thrive, as long as there's movement according to some experts.

Anthony Turri, exercise physiologist and National Program Manager at FIAFitnation and Endeavour College of Natural Health, says Australians can thrive in a work-from-home environment if they take time to move.

"If you spend most of your day sitting for work, study or play, it's important to take regular breaks.

"The human body is designed to move, not hold prolonged static positions."
The type of office isn't important, and you don't need a lot of space, explains Mr Turri, as long as you include regular breaks and keep moving.

"Ideally, get up for a few minutes each hour. It doesn't matter what you do as long as you move.

"Pop out for some fresh air, do some stretches or get a glass of water. But do try to avoid using these breaks to watch TV or go to the fridge!"

Stretching every hour and developing a work-from-home routine is key. But don't worry, you don't need fancy equipment – simply use household items, says Mr Turri.

Simple desk-bound exercises to thrive at home

Neck

Head tilts: Tilt your neck and head fully to the left and right. The movements should
be gentle and pain-free. Hold each position at the end for at least 30 seconds.

Head rotations: Rotate your neck and head fully to the left and right as if looking over
your shoulder. Hold each position for at least 30 seconds.

Head pulls: Push your head out and then pull it in, making a double chin. Hold for a
few seconds and repeat ten times. Do these exercises at least twice a day.

Shoulders

Alphabet chair: Point your arms down beside the chair, so you're forming an A, then move
them to shoulder length to make a T, above your head into an I, then slightly to the
side in the shape of a Y and finally make a W by bending at the elbow and rotate
shoulders backwards.

YMCA arms: Make stretching fun by dancing the YMCA with your arms over your
head and stretch as far as you can for each letter. Do the "C" both ways to get
balance in the stretches.

Back
Trunk rotations: While sitting in a chair, twist right around to the right and then the
left, using the arms of the chair to hold the twist

Trunk tilt: Stretch each arm diagonally into the air and lean sideways into the stretch.

Workout when you work from home

Exercise physiologist Andrew Daubney says those who are desk-bound for extended periods should aim for at least 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily.

"We should be doing resistance exercise, such as lifting weights, two to three times per week, and a mixture of HIIT and cardio the other three to four days.

"The most important aspect for exercise to become a routine is to find things that you love and make it enjoyable."

Those who don't remain active, beware. Sedentary behaviour can lead to heart disease and associated risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, warns Mr Daubney.

Tips on optimising your office for good health

Aoife Casey, physiotherapist and Pilates instructor, says to avoid injury and promote good health you need to set up a 'healthy' office.

"A home office can lead to a number of injuries, including carpal tunnel symptoms in the wrists and hands, golfer's elbow - oddly, far more likely to occur from typing than teeing off - and neck, back and jaw pain caused by low screen heights."

Luckily, you can make a few simple changes at home to help avoid these injuries, explains Ms Casey.

Do you work on a laptop? 

Use an external mouse and keyboard.

"The keyboard lets you raise the laptop to the optimal height - the top of the screen should be at eye level and at least 51cm away.

"A separate mouse and mousepad mouse allows you to hold your wrist, hand and shoulder at a more comfortable angle."

Do you work at a desk?

You should be working at a desk and not sitting in bed. But even so, your desk may cause problems if it's not at the right height.

"As a rule of thumb, your desk should be at the same height as your elbows, giving you a 90-degree angle.

"Too high, and you'll hike your shoulders up to your ears, causing neck and shoulder pain. Too low, and you'll slouch down to reach your keyboard, putting pressure on your spinal discs and leading to a 'hunchback' posture."

Check your feet!

Your feet should be flat on the floor with your back against the support of a chair.

"If your feet don't touch the floor, try adjusting the seat height or getting a small step to place them on.

Support your lower back.

You should have an adjustable, ergonomic chair with a lumbar support cushion.

"It makes a huge difference! You want to keep your lower back supported as you work, maintaining the natural inward curve at the base of your spine.

"This is your back's suspension, and maintaining it reduces the load on your lower back.

"Lumbar support cushions are likely available at your local physio, and they can recommend the best option to suit you."

Move it or lose it.

Finally, don't forget to move!

"It's so important to take frequent standing and walking breaks whether you're working from the office or anywhere else, at least every 45 minutes to an hour!

"This provides your back and joints much-needed movement, allows you to clear your mind, and your eyes get a break from the screen," says Ms Casey.

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.