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WFH? Remember to keep on movin'


Professor Tracey Devonport, Sport and Exercise Psychologist, blogs about the potential health consequences of working from home following BUPA’s wellbeing survey.

Off the back of an international study published in Frontiers in Psychology, I was invited to provide an academic commentary on the findings of the recently released (16th May 2022) BUPA Wellbeing Index survey.

Key findings from this survey show an increase in sedentary lifestyles associated with working from home due to the pandemic. This can be attributed in part to the loss of incidental exercise. Incidental exercise in this instance, is movement associated with commutes to work, and during work for example, between meetings or to grab lunch.

Of 8,000 adults completing the survey, almost one in five of those working from home reported exercising less often, while just under a third reported eating more.

The research promoting contact from BUPA also explored health behaviours during the pandemic. It was undertaken by myself and my colleague Dr Wendy Nicholls in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, and the University of Northampton. In order to examine the impact of the pandemic on health behaviours, more than a thousand individuals from several countries worldwide completed an online survey. This survey explored changes in physical activity, eating, sleep, and wellbeing during the first lockdown phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings complement those of the BUPA survey in that people around the world reported changes in their physical activity levels, wellbeing, and eating habits.

Of particular note, irrespective of country of residence or age, participants reporting reduced physical activity typically experienced poorer physical and mental health.

Reduced physical activity was also associated with perceptions of weight gain and decreased sleep. By contrast, increased physical activity was associated with better physical health along with increased wellbeing and sleep. UK participants specifically reported the lowest levels of perceived physical health and greatest weight gain during the pandemic.

Collectively the BUPA Wellbeing Index and research exploring the impact of the pandemic on health behaviours sends out an important message. That being the value of investing in our present and future self by improving our health behaviours. Improving health, as the BUPA Wellbeing Index reports, is commonly identified to be a personal priority.

While there are advantages to working from home, it has the potential to have a negative impact on physical health because of the loss of incidental exercise and easy access to snack foods.

As a sport and exercise psychologist - exercise is my hobby and my passion not just my job. I have actually increased physical activity while working from home by taking advantage of the extra time of not travelling to work and making more time to keep myself active.

Plan exercise or movement breaks

While the sunshine is here, take the opportunity to go for a walk/jog, walk to run an errand, or walk out to get lunch or better yet; why not set a goal of developing a regular physical activity habit? The intensity, distance or duration of the activity is less important - once a habit has been established, then think about how to build on that. Similarly, many of us have changed food habits during the pandemic, such as snacking more often because food is easily accessible. Being aware of this is a first step to adjusting these behaviours and finding a good personal balance again. Rather than snacking, plan meals carefully, and resolve to stick to your eating plans.

You may be able to relate to moving less and eating more when working from home, and you might have friends or family who feel the same – so why not take some of my top tips, plan in some exercise breaks and get yourself moving to a fitter and healthier you!


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