Are You Moving Less While Working From Home?

Working from home is with many of us, perhaps for longer that we may have initially envisaged. It is very important for all of us, but most especially those with arthritic and other chronic conditions where movement is beneficial, to ensure we don’t fall into the trap of becoming more sedentary! Most of us working from home are sedentary enough already, bound to our desks and laptops as we tend to be.

The good aspect is we now have the opportunity to put the commuting time to better use – we just have to make sure that IS what we do!

I am now balancing being back in an accounting role with my medical need to keep movement levels up plus the continuation of post-surgery knee rehabilitation exercises. What have I learnt already? I let my rehab exercises slip a couple of days, I ate at my desk twice and one morning I sat for WAY too long without getting up! Not good. For some inexplicable reason I found myself drinking more coffee and less water, so I’m being more aware of that now.

My daily physical activity commitments currently are:

  • 40 to 45 minutes of formal walking
  • achieve a total of 7,500 steps a day (limited due to post-surgery)
  • 40 minutes of rehab exercises

Swimming and weight training aren’t in the list as the gyms and pools are still closed in Melbourne due to Covid-19.

There is the need to avoid that dreaded boom/bust cycle and pace all of the above accordingly with working hours. These are not necessarily considerations for people without underlying health conditions: even so, worth bearing in mind!

Although the rehab routine is not tiring, the walking can be; especially if one has worked all day. Fatigue IS a symptom many of us live with. Mine is now minimal (thank you risankizumab), but I remember the days when I suffered quite badly from the fatigue. So rest time is important, it has to be part of the routine we establish.

I’m still at the stage of developing a daily routine. Finding what works for me. For a WFH day, I eat breakfast, walk for 25 minutes, then get ready for work (do my hair, pop on the lippy etc – all those video meetings!). Watch out for those back-to-back meeting days! The sitting time can easily extend to three hours. If you don’t have a sit/stand desk (mine is arriving soon!) this can be a trap. Watch your calendar: suggest different times for meetings if you have too many one after the other. Remember to take regular breaks from your desk.

Make sure to take a lunch break. This is important: move your body, stretch, sit in a different chair, break the mental exertion too. Do not eat at your desk.

I’m still working out the best time to do my rehab routine. If I do it in the morning, I need to get up earlier. If I do it after work, I’m becoming fatigued and I still have another 15 to 20 minutes walking to do. I’m thinking lunchtime might actually work best and will try that this coming week. The second walk is important because the one thing we lose while WFH is incidental exercise. No campus to walk around, no walking to and from the car park or tram stop. Those activities all add to our step count for the day. But we do have that extra time from the commute we no longer do, as mentioned earlier. It is finding the right balance.

Catching up on activity on the weekend is usually not an option for those with chronic conditions. Catching up just initiates a boom/bust event and none of us need that. So consistency is our friend. It is finding the right routine for each individual that is critical. What works, what doesn’t work?

Consistency is our friend

Weather can also throw all our plans completely out the window. I walk in the rain and in the cold – I can’t manage the heat. The heat intolerance that came with the hyperactive thyroid does seem to be finally abating: I found it much less troublesome last summer. I hope that persists! For others, the cold could be an issue. Weather is not related to WFH specifically, but working does mean we have less flexibility to juggle our physical activities around the weather.

Walking in the Rain

On days I physically go into the office (few and far between) I know I will get more incidental steps walking around the campus, to and from the car park, etc, therefore I don’t worry about a second formal walk on those days as long as I hit the 7,500 step count.

It is important to keep moving, get outdoors (mask up!) and not become glued to our desk and laptop. And on that note, I am now going to move, because it is Saturday and writing this is enough sitting for today!

chronic conditions care courage consistency coaching

Care, Consistency, Courage and Coaching

Chronic Conditions

Care, consistency, courage and coaching are my “4 Cs” of chronic condition management.

Care

There are different types of care. Top of the list is great medical care. You must have a good relationship with your primary care provider (general practitioner, GP). I’m not suggesting you be family friends who go out for dinner (that could be difficult) but you should feel comfortable that your GP “gets” you and that you trust their level of care. This is the medical professional on your team that herds the cats (your specialists) and keeps the information flowing, in a sense the gate-keeper.

Self-care is extremely important. Self-care isn’t all bubble baths and scented candles, although those are nice. Self-care includes doing the things you MUST do to maximise your health, minimise your pain. Making the time to do stretches, walk, swim, lift weights, sleep, eat well: “doing the hard yards” as my father would say. Yes, the other sort of self-care, the time-out, rest, relax: also very important.

Mental health care is extremely important. As I have written about that in “We Need Mental Health as well as Physical Health, I won’t say more here. Reducing stress is part of mental health care.

Being careful is also a form of care. One example I have written about before is changing exercises where necessary. My own example is I no longer do dumbbell chest press because getting off the bench irritates my spine.

Being careful with our body weight is important – for many, weight gain can mean increased pain levels.

breakfast
Breakfast

Consistency

Consistency is paramount. When we were healthy, our bodies could recover from a week or two of no exercise, a night on the booze or day of crap food. Sure, we may have suffered a hangover or the scales may have jumped a kilogram, but we easily recovered from the damage.

Once we have a chronic condition/illness/disease not only are our bodies not as resilient, we are likely on medications that, while doing very good things for us, may also compromise other aspects of our “internal workings”. My own example is my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) medication suppresses my immune system – logical when you think about it, of course, given RA is an autoimmune condition, my own immune system attacking me. This means I have to be super careful not to catch bugs/viruses, as I recently did. I ended up in ED with what felt like a ping-pong ball in my throat.

Exercise, such as stretching and resistance training, will stop your body deconditioning and greatly assist with pain management. However, the gains we make can be lost VERY quickly once our bodies are unwell. Consistency is vital to ensure we maintain our gains and keep building on our achievements. I have discussed exercise in more detail in Doctors and Exercise, so please click that link for a more comprehensive presentation about the importance of exercise.

de-conditioning

During a consultation with my endocrinologist he asked, “Do you take your meds?” Frankly, I was shocked – what a strange thing to ask, I thought, of course I take my medications! He asked because my thyroid was misbehaving again and my blood tests were not within the reference range – again. Clearly some patients don’t take their medications as prescribed.

Most medications for chronic conditions require consistency to be effective. If you feel the dose or the medication isn’t working as it should, TALK TO THE SPECIALIST before changing anything. You may do more harm than good. If the problem is remembering, set alarms in your phone. Some medications can take three or more months to reach the required level of effectiveness.

Be consistent. With medications, exercise, diet, rest, sleep, hydration.

consistent exercise
Consistent daily steps

Even if you have to dance to get there!

Courage

Yes, courage. It takes courage to start AND to keep up the fight. “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”. The treasure is maintaining quality of life for as long as possible. For some, the cave is MOVEMENT! It can be hard to think about movement when we are in pain. Or we feel we can’t “keep up” in the gym. Today is my swimming day. The predicted high is 13 Celsius. Do I REALLY want to get into my bathers and hit the pool, or would I prefer chocolate cake and a nip of Bailey’s Irish Cream? Consistency! Courage! Just do it!

leg press

The benefits are worth it. I have avoided a knee replacement and radiofrequency denervation of the lumber spine. Yes, I MAY need both some time in the future (distant future, I hope) but for the moment, I’m good. I’m on no pain medications.

Four years ago I started with four x 5 minute walks a day.

Now a gym session looks like this:

  • 4 sets leg press
  • 3 sets chest press
  • 3 sets shoulder press
  • 1 set body weight squats
  • 3 sets Smith Machine squats
  • 3 sets tricep extensions
  • 3 sets bicep curls
  • 3 sets lat pulldowns
  • 3 sets leg extensions
  • 3 sets pec dec
  • 8 minutes on the rowing machine

I got VERY annoyed recently when I lost muscle strength and had to drop my leg press weight down from 160 kgs. While we still don’t have a medical explanation, I am building back up again, so perhaps it was just a temporary glitch. We have temporary glitches.

I didn’t get to where I am now without care, consistency and courage.

Coaching

Professional athletes all have coaches. They have goals. WE also have goals (hopefully SMART goals)!

Perhaps we need to look at ourselves as endurance QOLs –  Quality of Life is the goal we strive for, not necessarily running 3,100 kilometres in 45 days! Our mental challenge can be just as extreme, even if our physical achievements are not. 8 Steps to Retain/Regain Quality of Life

People are all different, conditions vary greatly. Even so, the sooner you start managing your condition instead of your condition managing you, the better your chances of retaining your quality of life for as long as possible.

Sometimes all that is needed is help to get started. Sometimes a patient may prefer longer term support and encouragement.

Coaching helps the chronic condition patient take control. There is a fifth “C” – Control!

Too often patients feel they are “OK for the moment, I’ll worry about all this later” (when my job is not so stressful/the kids are older/the house is paid off). My advice is don’t wait. Start now to protect your future.

Contact me for a confidential chat as a starting point.

Note this article is intended for chronic condition patients who have a medical clearance or medical advice to exercise. This can be at any level from beginner.