5 Ways To Stay Healthy When You Work From Home

Or, how to not be lazy when you have the world’s shortest commute.

Photo by Chad Hunt Photography

When you tell others that you are working from home, often they mistakenly think that means you have more time for doing things you love, like practicing yoga or learning a new musical instrument. In actuality, the shift from corporate life to self-scheduled days can be both stressful and chaotic. As those of you that have tried it know, when you’re working for yourself, you’re never NOT on the clock; workdays can begin as soon as you rise and linger on well after dinner. The pressure to not only do good work but constantly solicit for new opportunities and clients can be all consuming. It’s not surprising that important things like staying fit and eating well can quickly fall off of your priority list.

Google “how to stay healthy at home” and you’ll see what I mean. Advice abounds on how to stay healthy while on the job, but the majority of it is geared towards office dwellers. As the number of freelancers in the United States grows — it’s estimated that 50% of the American workforce will be freelance by the year 2020 — the habits we form in our new work lives will have a direct impact on our health and wellness.

That’s the experience I had after leaving my corporate job in September. Yes, having the world’s shortest commute is an asset when you have a long to-do list and bunch of emails to write before nine a.m. The danger is, before you know it, three hours have passed and you’ve barely moved. It’s all too easy to plod downstairs and grab whichever snack is lying about (in our house that’s Pretzel Goldfish). Add to that a handy plate of holiday sweets and a glass of wine to help fade away the anxieties caused by constant news consumption and you’ve got a recipe for weight gain. Not surprisingly, after a few months of this behavior my beloved J.Crew Minnie pants were suddenly feeling as though they should be renamed my Too Teenie pants.

Come January, I decided to do something about my slovenly state. I made a few New Year’s resolutions, something I usually adamantly avoid. More than six weeks have passed since establishing my new work-life rules, and while I am by no means ready to write a self-help tome, I have learned a few valuable lessons along the way.

If you are one of the three million of Americans finding themselves an “independent contractor” working from home, either by choice or circumstance, here are a some things you can do to ensure this enlightening phase of your career benefits your body as much as your mind.

Work out when you would be commuting.

I used to spend about 45 minutes commuting each way, every day. That is slightly longer than the national average, but at least it involved a bit of exercise. Each day’s journey to the glass and steel tower in lower Manhattan would included walking a mile and a half and climbing ten sets of stairs.

Now that my office is just a few steps away from the bedroom, I take that time I spent on trains and dedicate it to working out. I like to alternate days between YouTube yoga (Brett Larkin has a variety of classes designed to be squeezed into busy schedules) and core-body workouts (Kayla Tsines training guides take about 20 minutes each day.) Find what works for you — a class at the local gym, a jog around the block, maybe even a former First Lady’s workout — and carve out the time.

Commit to that cleanse you’ve been debating.

Despite best intentions, taking on a dietary cleanse when you’re working in an office is extra tough. In addition to a daunting amount of meals-to-go prep, you are constantly faced with temptations ranging from birthday cupcakes to working lunches. When you’re working from home, those obstacles are removed. With a bit of willpower, having control over what you put in your mouth each day is actually manageable.

My husband and I just completed Whole 30 — that means thirty days of saying no to sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, and dairy. It honestly wasn’t as hard as I imagined, but having access to a full kitchen by day certainly helped make it more achievable.

If that sounds like too much to take on, pick just one thing, like sugar or wheat, and try to go a few weeks without. See how your body changes and feels during and after. You may learn something new that forever changes your diet — and health — for good.

Cook during business hours.

Even if you don’t go whole hog on something like Whole30, try to engage in healthy meal prep by day when you are working from home. It’s the best kind of multi-tasking! Roast vegetables while you work on that presentation. Simmer chicken broth as you fill out that Excel chart. Get that slow cooker humming before your next video conference call. With 15 minutes of prep time, you can not only get dinner started, but have enough smart snacks at hand so those Pretzel Goldfish are forgotten.

Go for a walk at lunchtime.

Our four-year-old dog is extremely happy to have me around the house more, as he and I set out for strolls around the neighborhood twice a day. But even if you don’t have a pooch, getting out of the house for a walk is important to both your health and productivity. A study conducted two years ago by the University of Birmingham concluded that midday walkers feel more enthusiastic and relaxed than those who don’t partake. “There is now quite strong research evidence that feeling more positive and enthusiastic at work is very important to productivity,” Cecilie Thogersen-Ntoumani, the study’s lead author and a professor of exercise science at Curtin University in Perth, Australia told The New York Times.

Try a meditation app.

A friend of mine decompresses at the end of every day by using a meditation app on the train. She puts on headphones, closes her eyes, and deeply chills out while other commuters are answering emails and scrolling through social media. She arrives at her station calmer and ready for phase two of her day (Otherwise known as “Hi Mom, what’s for dinner?). But why would a stay-at-home worker need extra relaxation time?

For starters, studies have shown that meditation can help one deal with stress, even the stress of unemployment which freelance contractors may experience every time one job ends.

Secondly, those who practice meditation often describe it as a mental energy boost. Think of it as a coffee break without the caffeine. Start by carving out ten minutes, perhaps around 2:30 pm which is usually when we hit a slump. Test out a few meditation apps until you find one that speaks to you (literally, in a voice you like). Schedule a post-lunch break to clear your head and be mindful of your body. You’ll be amazed at how productive you are afterwards. Luckily, there are a flurry of digital offerings that make meditation easy to try, and most apps offer a free trial.

These are a few of the ways I’ve adapted to my new, flexible-yet-packed work life. My hope is to not only continue these good habits but take them with me when find myself back in the commuting grind.