A Remote Worker’s Guide To Staying Healthy
Remote work, or working from home. A common dream that is becoming more and more a reality. When most people think about working in a home environment, they think they will be able to wake up late, work in their pajamas, not worry about traffic jams and so on; basically, do whatever they want. And, while that may be partially true, working remotely can have an effect on your physical health. That’s why it is important for remote developers to stay active and healthy, and that’s what we’re dicussing today.
Granted, there are a lot of developers who take good care of themselves and enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle. If you are one of them, you can skip the rest of this post, because I wrote it to help developers like myself, who could benefit from a healthier lifestyle. Even if you are entirely focused on your career, and think you don’t have enough spare time to lead a healthy lifestyle, bear in mind that good physical health will also boost your productivity.
Having worked remotely for four years, I have a few tips for newcomers and those who already work from home, but don’t want to sit around when they’re not working. Keep in mind that everything I’m about to say is drawn from personal experience and from things I’ve learned; I am not a doctor or trainer in any way.
Routines Are Important For Remote Workers
The whole point of working remotely is that you don’t have to commit to that boring 9-to-5 office routine, right? Right. But you also need some sort of structure to stay organized and separate your work hours from your chill time.
Maybe you work better at night? If you don’t have to attend meetings during daytime work hours then there’s nothing wrong with working from, say, 7pm to 3am and sleeping ‘til noon. Maybe you want to keep working from 9am to 6pm because you like it or your company demands it. That’s fine, too.
I’m saying you need to keep in mind the hours you should be working and the hours you are free to do whatever you want. Of course, some flexibility is involved, especially when you need to cooperate with clients and remote teams on other continents. You’re working with a time that’s seven hours ahead of your local time, so that particular week you’ll be working a little later than usual.
You have to adjust, but at the same time make sure you draw a clear line between work and play time.
Make Time For Yourself
With taking your routine seriously in hand, you need to make sure it includes time away from work. A time only for you to enjoy it how you want. Want to go for a walk on the beach everyday on sunrise? Great. Want to spend it playing Candy Crush? That’s also fine.
Scheduled time away from work is of extreme importance when working remotely. It will keep you sane. It is very easy to get lost in your work. Ever met a developer who doesn’t have a freelancing business or side project out of their daytime job? I know I’ve never met one.
I like to think of this part of the day as chill time. I like to spend it reading science fiction books. I make sure to take time to read twice: right after lunch and just before bed. If I have other available time slots during the day I’d probably do that, too; there’s no such thing as too much Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke or Philip K. Dick for me.
Note that your chill time does not mean laying around, exerting no physical effort, whatsoever. It does not mean you should be alone, either. You can spend it with your friends and family, or maybe take a quick walk in the park with your dog.
Exercising is even better, which brings me to the next point.
It is no secret that people who exercise regularly feel better and have more energy, and are thus more productive. In fact, remote workers tend to be more productive than their office counterparts to beging with. If you invest a little time and effort in fitness, you should be able to boost your productivity further. This means you can widen the gap between yourself and your office-bound competition, and on top of that you can be healthier as well.
Usually, it is easier to get yourself to the gym when you work in an office. Perhaps because it is close to work, or because you go there with a friend after you’re done for the day. People find it hard to get up early when they don’t have to, especially to work out. Laziness is not the only culprit here. Maybe you don’t like to work out alone, but most of your friends are at work when you want to go to the gym or shoot some hoops. Maybe you’re skinny and don’t think you have to do anything to improve your health. However, you can be thin and still be out of shape.
I used to be chubby. Really chubby. I started gaining weight when I began working in another city and spent four hours or more commuting to and from work. Then, I switched companies and started working from home, and it only got worse, because I failed to adjust my routine. But before long, I decided I needed to do some other activity that did not involve a computer or me laying on my couch, munching snacks.
Enter tennis. I always loved watching tennis, but the thought of playing never crossed my mind. Until it did. I started taking classes once a week and I really liked it. Then, I upgraded to three times a week; I even paid for my sister to take classes too. After that, I joined a club and started playing with her whenever I could. Weekends, spare time during the week, you name it, I was there on a regular basis, trying to improve my game.
Although I had never felt better, for a couple of years that was all I did. I still would eat wrong (we’ll get to that in a second). I was still chubby and not happy about it. So I sought professional help. I Googled nutritionists in my area and scheduled an appointment. I described my eating habits to her and she stunned me; nothing I put in my belly was good for me. So, I left there with a diet that contained things I did not eat ever, much less daily. On top of that, I joined a gym (went daily, at night) and started running (three times a week, in the morning). I lost 15 kilos in 2 months. Mission accomplished. I was happy, healthy and fit. I also worked a lot better, too.
Now, I’m not saying you need to do what I did, this is my story, my personal experience. My point here is that you need to move your body more than the Saturday afternoon game with the guys from your old job. If you don’t like lifting weights, take up a sport. Go run in the park when the sun is starting to fade and it’s not so hot out. Call another developer friend and help each other commit to daily spinning classes. Just get yourself out of the house and into some sort of activity. The first step is always hard, but once you get used to it, or find something that you really look forward to, you’ll feel a lot better.
Eating Right Is No Joke
People who eat healthy food can be a annoying, right? They eat weird green stuff and are always complaining about your eating habits. You can be a healthy eater, and not be obnoxious and smug about it.
You can’t have Doritos and Coke for breakfast and expect to have energy for a full day of work. You need food that makes your body function better. When I was losing weight I was on a two thousand calories per day diet. My diet contained everything; from carbs to give me energy before going to the gym, to protein to consume after, and a whole lot of vegetables to keep me healthy. Then I went to a 2.500kcal diet to maintain that and then decided on a 3.000kcal diet to put some muscle on. These dietary plans were created specifically for me by my nutritionist.
Eating healthy and making healthy decisions is a no-brainer. Making the healthy decision is what you need to start committing to a diet, and I strongly suggest you get assistance from a nutritionist who will make your life easier by telling you what to eat and when to eat it based on what you like and your resources.
I cannot stress this enough: Turn to a professional.
Never advice from unqualified people, and don’t take everything you read online for granted. Remember, your health is at stake; you wouldn’t allow an unqualified person to fix a couple of cavities in your teeth, and you should look at nutrition the same way: Leave it to the professionals. The British National Health Service (NHS) has a useful guide for people looking for nutritionists and dietitians.
When I eat right I feel better and saner. I never feel too hungry, I am able to concentrate better, I have more stamina.
Maybe get your friends and family to eat right with you? Your body will thank you and you’ll see the results during your annual physical.
Another upside of working remotely is that you can set aside some time to prepare your own food. Rather than eating takeout and junk food in your office, you can treat yourself to a wholesome and healthy meal in the comfort of your own home. It takes some effort, but once you get used to it, and once you start feeling the difference, you probably won’t feel the urge to go back to street food.
Even if you are not a master chef, you can find a lot of useful guides and recipes online. However, make sure you coordinate everything with your nutritionist. Don’t improvise.
Using Technology To Make Your Healthy Lifestyle Fun
Over the past few years, a number of startups and big tech firms have launched various fitness-oriented gadgets and wearables. Some are good and some are gimmicks, but depending on how you use tech, they can be helpful and make your fitness routines more enjoyable and efficient.
You don’t have to invest in new gadgets to use technology to your advantage: Any smartphone will do the trick, provided you find the right apps and use cases. A smartphone can help you in a number of ways:
- Content consumption, music and audio books
- Activity tracker apps
- Food apps
- Weight loss apps
- Motivational/habit apps
Granted, these aren’t for everyone, and some people may even find them distracting. However, it all depends on the person and their routine. For example, someone likes to jog to a playlist, while someone else enjoys an audiobook while taking their dog for a walk in the park.
Smartphones can be used as accurate pedometers, calorie counters and more. You can track your progress and make sure you are exercising enough each week. Whether you’re hiking or biking, these apps will give you a bit more insight into your routine, and may motivate you to do more from week to week.
However, don’t expect miracles. Researchers have found that many health apps aren’t as useful as their publishers would have us believe. Therefore it is a good idea to check a lot of reviews before you commit to one of them. Even so, there is no harm in tracking the time you spent exercising and walking. To do that, you probably won’t even have to look for specialised apps, as you could simply choose Google Fit or Apple HealthKit to cover your basic fitness needs.
There are a lot of food and weight loss apps out there, and many of them will easily let you track your food intake, calories burned, while at the same time allowing you to weigh in and measure your waistline and keep track of progress. In many fitness apps, you can set clear goals and challenge your body to a duel of sorts, making the whole process a bit more interesting and efficient.
If, however, you don’t mind trying new gadgets, you can purchase some wearables, namely smart wristbands and smartwatches. These aren’t very mature products and there are teething problems with many of them (battery life, for example), but they can be useful.
Wearables can do the following:
- Keep track of your heart rate
- Deliver more accurate data in many cases (pedometer)
- Act as a sedentary reminder
- Allow you to check notifications and control audio playback without stopping to take out your phone
This is entirely subjective, hence there are likely some people out there who would find such devices annoying, or even uncomfortable. Still, these gadgets have the potential to make exercise more attractive from a tech enthusiast’s perspective, and that is why I decided to mention them.
Keep On Keeping On
That’s it. Try and do some of the things I’ve suggested (adapting them to your needs and taste, of course) and you should be all set to become a healthy and motivated developer.
Keep at it, folks.
You cannot expect results in a matter of days, or even weeks. You should not set unrealistic goals, only to lose motivation when you miss them. Staying fit while working long hours is an ongoing struggle; it’s a series of smart lifestyle choices, not something you do for a few weeks just to look good on the beach.
I have to stress that I restricted this post to my personal experience, and I have no doubt a lot of you use a different approach, for better or for worse. I outlined what worked for me, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you. Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to come up with a routine that suits their personal preferences and physical condition. If you fail to do so, and if you try something that isn’t a good fit, you will increase the chances of reverting to your old, unhealthy habits.
In any case, once you find the right balance, you should have no trouble boosting your productivity and improving your health in the long run. Trying out a sport or healthy hobby, or buying and preparing healthy food, usually doesn’t cost much and doesn’t take up a lot of your time, so it’s a very small price to pay for the extra productivity and sense of wellbeing.
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