Keeping your heart healthy when you work from home

Could the lifestyle change of working from home be negatively impacting your health?

A doctor holding a small red plastic love heart

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide. While some risk factors like your age and family history can't be avoided, some - like your diet, lifestyle and habits - can. As World Heart Day approaches, it's worth considering the impact our new-look homeworking lives might be having on the health of our hearts.

Working from home - how does it affect your health?

Research shows that attitudes to flexible working have changed during lockdown, with workers reporting a better work-life balance, increased productivity and improved wellbeing. It's likely that for many previously office-based workers across the UK, homeworking in some capacity is here to stay.

While homeworking presents many perks, it isn't everybody's preferred method of working - and this can rapidly lead to issues with health, wellbeing and productivity. This is why it's so important to develop a healthy homeworking routine that addresses the four key elements of heart health at work:

A healthy diet

You might have noticed that your diet has changed since you stopped going into the office so frequently. With easy, unfettered and unsupervised access to the fridge, it may have become somewhat harder to resist the temptation of unhealthy snacking.

Stress and uncertainty can also lead to comfort eating. If working from home is going to be a long-term solution to the COVID problem, it's important to consider any bad habits you might have developed over the past few months, and find a way to overcome them.

Overeating fatty and sugary foods can lead to weight gain and all the health issues associated with it, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and of course, coronary heart disease.

Some tips to try include:

  • If you find it hard to resist sweet treats that you know are in the house, put a blanket ban on buying them - or restrict them to weekends only.
  • Stock up on healthier snack items, like fruit and nuts.
  • Have an eating schedule - try eating lunch at the same time every day, and avoid sporadic eating in-between.
  • Take a look at ideas in 'Lunchtime: the working from home way!'

Frequent physical activity

With less space to roam, you might find your daily activity levels have dropped since you started homeworking. Now you no longer need to cross the car park, or amble to the water cooler several times a day - it's important that you schedule regular movement into your time at home.

Here are some ideas:

  • Set a timer on your phone to get up every twenty minutes.
  • Use this break to stretch, star jump, do some press ups, or walk around your home/garden a few times.
  • Go for a walk on your lunch break - don't be tempted to turn on the TV.
  • Swap your regular desk for a sit-stand desk/platform. This gives you the means to swap regularly between sitting and standing throughout the day, shaking up your postures and preventing you from feeling stagnant and sluggish.

Keeping stress levels down

Studies suggest that high levels of cortisol produced as a result of long-term stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure. All of these factors can increase the risk of developing heart disease.

The term 'COVID stress' has been dubbed to describe widespread feelings of anxiety surrounding the virus, compromised health, job uncertainty and resulting financial and relationship issues. Not everyone finds working from home preferable to being in the office. Sudden isolation from work colleagues, feeling trapped in an unsuitable space, and juggling home and work responsibilities simultaneously can all cause heightened levels of stress.

Some tips for keeping your stress levels down at home include:

  • Good communication with your manager and team
  • Create a dedicated workspace (our infographic might help)
  • Set boundaries for yourself, such as when to stop checking work emails
  • Go for a walk before you start work to create a bridge between home and work
  • Identify activities and habits that help you feel calm, and make time for them (running, yoga, meditation, cooking etc.)
  • Write lists if you're feeling overwhelmed with tasks
  • Talk about how you feel

Knowledge and training

As you're reading this post in the first place, you've already taken the initiative to learn more about heart health and what you can do to improve yours while working from home.

Read about good posture and set-up (start with the Art of Sitting guide from Posturite).