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Home workers staying at their desks longer


TALK AND WALK Walking while you’re talking on the phone is a good way of sneaking activity into your day.

Andrew O'Brien

After the first day back at school, my wife asked our son how it went. “I don’t know, not much different really,” was the answer. Like most kids he had been a bit nervous, expecting to be chased down the corridors with masked teachers carrying sanitiser like Wild West gunslingers. Aside from staying within his pod in the classroom, things seemed much the same.
It’s a credit to teachers that they have managed to make what could have been very stressful seem as normal as possible. If only the same could be said for adult work practices.
Does anyone remember during the peak of the lockdown how many people said something like: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if life stayed this simple? We can work from home, get out and do our exercise and everyone is understanding of the difficulties and, despite it all, life seems relatively good’.
A recent survey commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation has knocked that notion on the head. It found that more than half of people who work from home are sitting down for longer than they would do in the office. Not just a bit longer either, an average or two hours and 40 minutes longer every day, thank you very much. Apparently one in four workers are doing it at least three extra hours each day.
I’ve never had an office job as such, so I asked a few people and, while none of them admitted to doing that much more, most did say it’s an easy trap to fall into. Some say they feel guilty if they leave the desk and worry that co-workers might think they are skiving off if emails aren’t being answered immediately. One friend said that her normal commute is about an hour each way, so if she’s not driving, she might as well work those two hours instead.
Why? It is often said that in the western world we are cash rich, but time poor. So why are we so many people spending 12 or 15 extra hours per week sitting down doing work tasks? Increased time spent sitting raises the risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and death, among other things. I understand that working remotely is more challenging than being physically in the office, but are those challenges so great that it takes an extra two-and-a-half hours to overcome them and require a risk to long-term health?
Given our current pandemic predicament, sending everyone back to the office might not be advisable, even if it does protect their long-term health. So, what can be done instead? The obvious answer is to work rigidly to your normal office start, finish and break times. Simple and brutally effective, but let’s be even more creative.
For years I have advocated the use of a standing desk as a way of reducing sedentary time in work. Who has a standing desk at home? Who needs one when we’re being creative? Until I got around to buying a standing desk for the clinic, these articles were regularly typed with the laptop sitting on the ironing board. Standing up, and fidgeting while doing so, increases energy expenditure and lowers the risk of all those conditions we mentioned earlier.
Could we do the same with conference calls? My understanding is that at least one local workplace holds short, standing meetings on the production floor each morning. Is there any reason for sitting at a desk for every online meeting? If your phone supports Zoom and you don’t have to be sitting at a desk, don’t. Similarly, if you are taking an old-fashioned phone call, take advantage of the fact that mobile phones are, in fact, mobile, and walk around the room, the house or even the garden while talking. Regular walking breaks in work have been shown to improve workplace productivity, especially when taken outdoors. Perhaps if you move more you won’t have to do the extra couple of hours each day.
Our son also mentioned that his teacher won’t be setting any homework for the first month. Good luck getting that one past the boss.

Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at


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