Moving on from the “olden days”: looking after your physical wellbeing and staying active during new ways of working

In this blog, Fiona Lindop, Specialist Physiotherapist, shares her own challenges in trying to remain active while much of her working life has drastically slowed down and left her behind a desk rather than in a face to face clinic. She also offers tips and advice for professionals, reminding them of the importance of prioritising their physical wellbeing.

As a physiotherapist I am used to promoting activity, encouraging others to exercise, and trying to practice what I preach. Working in an outpatient department used to make it relatively easy - being on my feet almost all day meant I nearly always reached my daily step count of over 10,000 steps. Meetings used to be in person and that sometimes involved travelling - often to London where using the underground to get to and from my destination involved long walks in station corridors, almost always at a brisk pace matching other commuters who were in a hurry. Conferences also used to be in person, often somewhere other than home, offering an opportunity for networking and maintaining activity levels whilst walking around conference centres and poster exhibitions. 

The reality of staying active in a new, more sedentary role during a pandemic

That was the “olden-days”. Fast forward to 2021, and my activity counter (still set for a minimum of 10,000 steps a day) has turned into a nagging watch! As I sit at my desk conducting remote consultations or attending meetings, either by video or telephone, with far fewer face-to-face appointments than 12 months ago, I find it really challenging to maintain my own fitness, whilst still trying to encourage patients to increase their activity levels. I know many colleagues are also finding it difficult; some are doing 3-4 hour telephone clinics with no breaks in-between. That’s 3-4 hours without being able to walk away from a desk, and often clinics are followed by a series of meetings held online. So even more sitting down!

Working from home affects us all - find ways to stay motivated

It isn’t just health professionals who are sitting down more. The majority of the working population are now working from home rather than travelling to the office, cutting out the walking that formed part of their daily commute. While not many miss the hassle of travelling, most will miss the activity it added to our daily exercise. Now we all have to make more effort to exercise in our time off – not so easy if you can’t go to your usual gym exercise class or swimming pool because of COVID-related closures! I’m not someone who loves running but needs must when other options are not available, so much so that I have to decide the night before that I’m going to run the next morning. I leave my running gear out and ready so I can just get up and get ready without having to decide if I feel like going running. This meant that last week I got up, got ready in the bathroom so I didn’t disturb my still sleeping husband, set my activity tracker and opened the front door… only to find it was snowing with a light covering on the ground! Still, I had decided I was running and therefore I WAS running. Off I went into the snow and completed my run. I felt very virtuous afterwards, though I’m not sure I’d repeat it!

If running isn’t for you, there are many online exercise classes to help as well. I’ve found doing some exercise “bites” with Joe Wicks, aka ‘The Body Coach’ on YouTube really helpful - 20 minutes of hard exercise and then it’s over! I’ve also thrown in a bit of online Pilates (thanks to my daughter, also a physiotherapist, who has offered online sessions since the first lockdown.). Despite all of that, some days my step count is still a challenge.

Looking to the future and protecting our workforce - encouragement is key

What can we do to avoid having an unhealthy workforce when all of this is over? I suggest planning your day to include lots of breaks to allow for some activity. This could be 5 minutes of squats, stretches and weights whilst making a coffee. If you are organising a meeting, could you include some activity breaks in the agenda? If you are planning an online course, could the programme include some activity sessions for delegates to try, or even a short burst of exercise led by someone?

As for the normal day-to-day stuff, we must try to encourage one another to be more active in the workplace. Sometimes (not always) I opt for printing a document in a room about 25 metres away from my office as that way I have to get up and go for a walk to get it. Opting for a standing desk rather than a seated one is also a good option - if you work from home, the ironing board makes a good substitute standing desk for your laptop!

Few guidelines exist for keeping people active in the workplace, so I’m on a mission to get some in place. If you have any ideas for staying active at work I would be delighted to hear them - please email [email protected]

Fiona Lindop is Specialist Physiotherapist with the Parkinson’s multidisciplinary team at the University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust. She is also the Excellence Network Clinical lead for therapy.

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