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How to sneak a little fitness into the workday

This Help Desk story is the result of a reader’s question: “I work from home and sit at a computer all day, and even though I go to the gym, I’m not losing weight. I need advice on how to get more activity during the day.” If you have a question you’d like Globe writers to address, submit it online here or e-mail Help Desk editor Chris Morris at christine.morris@globe.com.

For people trying to lose weight, working from home can be ideal. In theory, remote workers can swap professional attire for workout gear and conduct business from a Joanna Coles-style treadmill desk.

But in reality, telecommuters may find themselves staring at a computer all day, getting up only to slowly empty the contents of the fridge.

As working from home becomes increasingly common — about 43 percent of all workers work remotely at least occasionally, according to a recent Gallup poll — more people are navigating the perks and downfalls of the zero-minute commute.

The trick to staying fit while working from home, according to local trainers and wellness writers, is anticipating the challenges — yes, you will want to snack — while taking advantage of the flexibility.


Reaping the benefits of the at-home office requires self-discipline, said Rebecca Pacheco, a Boston-based yoga and meditation teacher.

“If you’re working from home, you already have self-discipline,” Pacheco said. “It’s just a question of focusing that energy on health and wellness, too.”

Get active when you would be commuting. As tempting as the extra minutes of sleep may be, the time that would otherwise be spent in a train or a car can be used for an early errand, a quick jog, or a sunrise sunyasana. This practice can also inject a sense of routine into a remote workday that can often feel unstructured compared to office life, said Pacheco.

“It puts you in the right frame of mind,” said Pacheco who developed this strategy while writing her two books from home.

Pay attention to posture. For the periods of time spent in front of a computer screen, it’s crucial to regularly take breaks to stretch and reset, said Susan Reardon, the nutritionist and trainer behind the Boston business Susan Reardon Wellness.


If you tend to get caught up in your workflow, set reminders on a calendar app, Reardon said. She also advises swapping out a desk chair for a stability ball, which engages the core and provides an easy opportunity to sneak in crunches between e-mails.

Sitting for long periods of time can also cause strain in the body, stopping gluteal muscles from firing, which can make backsides become weak and even droopy, Reardon said. She recommends tightening and releasing the glutes several times during stretching sessions.

Alternating between sitting at a computer and working from a standing desk is ideal, Pacheco said, but the same result can be achieved by working with what’s available in your home or apartment, she said, like a countertop, a bureau, or even a mantle.

Break up computer time with micro-workouts. Without the eyes of your boss and co-workers on you, it can be easy to slip into a rut — i.e. pajamas all day, bringing your laptop into bed — but a great advantage of working remotely is that those same coworkers can’t judge you if you’re doing calf raises as you proofread documents or stretches while taking conference calls.

“If you’re getting to the gym after work, that’s great,” Pacheco said, “but it’s not enough to balance out all those hours spent in front of a computer screen.”

Pacheco recommends bookmarking a few favorite 10-minute yoga flows on your laptop and keeping a resistance band near your workspace for quick bicep curls, squats, or lunges.


These quick exercise breaks don’t need to get you sweaty, Reardon said, but just 5 to 10 minutes of activity will wake up the body.

“Taking a break will clear your mind and can actually make you more productive,” Reardon said.

Prepare for the temptation to snack. When it comes to losing weight, what you eat is even more important than exercise, said Sarah Dussault, a Boston-based personal trainer and healthy living blogger, so she recommends taking a closer looks at what you’re eating during the workday. Temptations can abound when the pantry is just steps away from your computer screen, she said.

“When you’re home, it’s easy to just eat straight from the bag and overdo it,” Dussault said.

Instead of giving into the draw of a half-full bag of chips, she recommends buying single-serving snack packages. Dussault, who often works from home on her blog, said she prewashes and cuts fruit and vegetables to have on-hand in the fridge. It can also be helpful, she said, to plan out snacks for the work week, which can help with grocery shopping and lessen the temptation to buy unhealthy options.

Reardon said the impulse to snack is a common problem among her clients who work from home, especially moms who keep snacks around the house for their children. She recommends that clients log what they eat, which “eliminates the possibility of mindless eating.”

And on those days when you still can’t resist your junk food stash — “Don’t beat yourself up about it,” Pacheco said.


Emily Williams can be reached at emily.williams@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.