After 16 months of working from home, white-collar workers are starting a gradual return to the office – and it’s fair to say that some are more enthusiastic than others. Most UK homeworkers believe their well-being has improved while away from the office, according to ONS figures released last month. Many of them claim that working from home has helped them incorporate healthy habits, like exercise and better nutrition, into their day.
But scientists say returning to the office has its own, somewhat surprising, health benefits for our body and mind. What are they?
Don’t be afraid of your ride
It is 7:30 am and your alarm clock is ringing. As of March 2020, your trip to work may have been little more than a teary-eyed stumble at the bottom of your living room table. But scientists say returning to a good commute – involving walking, sun, and fresh air – can do wonders for our health.
Despite our well-intentioned promises at the start of the pandemic to use the extra time to ‘start running’, physical activity has actually dropped worldwide during each lockdown, according to a study of daily step count measures. published last year by the University of California. .
A daily commute, on the other hand, requires us to use our legs, says Jane Ogden, professor of health psychology at the University of Surrey. “Getting out of the house and going somewhere, even if it’s by car or public transport, means you’re actually walking around and you’re a lot less sedentary. We know that being sedentary is incredibly unhealthy. Any type of physical activity – standing, walking, using public transportation, even walking to and from the parking lot – is better than sitting all day.
Going out also exposes us to sun and vitamin D, increasing the strength of bones, teeth and muscles, and potentially boosting our immune system, making us less vulnerable to infections.
The power of routine
Doctors have become interested in the power of a structured day in recent years. A study from the University of Minnesota published in 2019 in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that patients who incorporated healthy habits into their lives in a structured and routine way – such as eating fruit at the same time every morning or jogging the same route every night after work – were much more likely to stick to it.
These routines can easily fall apart when we are working from home, says Professor Ogden. Meal times become irregular. Some problem drinkers say the lockdown’s lack of structure has driven them into full-blown alcoholism (a problem that worsened during the pandemic, research shows). Others say they have stopped showering and even stopped brushing their teeth. Our psychological distinction between work and leisure evaporates; some say that working from home is best described as “making a living from work”.
“The structure of your day helps you manage your time,” says Professor Ogden. “It helps your well-being, because you know what’s happened and you know what’s going to happen. It helps pass the time if you are feeling anxious or upset. You are not drifting.
“It’s good to eat three meals a day at fairly fixed times to keep your energy level and your digestion active. It’s more difficult to do when you’re at home, next to the fridge.
The power of tea break
Even after we get to the office and turn on our computer, we still tend to move around more than we would when working from home. Daily exercise is boosted by activities as simple as going to a colleague’s office for a chat, says Dr Jenna Macciochi, an immunologist at the University of Sussex. “Before you know it, you’ve taken over 10,000 steps just walking around the office. “
Often at work, we burn calories without even realizing it, adds Professor Ogden. “We talk about mindless eating, but there is also a lot of thoughtless activity that people don’t even register when working outside the home. You move between rooms to have different meetings, you walk down the hall. On Zoom, as you move between meetings, you [just] flip through a screen.
Tea breaks are particularly useful for our mental well-being and productivity, thinks Dr Michael Pollan, author of the new Here is your opinion on the plants: Opium-Caffeine-Mescaline. “Your employer gives you free medicine at work, then gives you paid time to enjoy it. They do it because it makes you a much better worker, ”he told BBC Radio 4 this week.
Walking to the tea station also means less time in your chair, which improves posture and reduces back and neck pain. In the office, you’ll also have the option of a more ergonomic chair with more solid back support – a blessing for a home worker who has spent the past 16 months locked in a poorly designed living room chair with little to no back support, or slumped horizontally on a sofa or bed. No wonder there was an explosion of back pain during the lockdown.