I saw a startling article the other day, from a job discovery platform called DirectlyApply. It showed what remote workers could look like in 25 years. God willing, we won’t all still be stuck at home and social distancing for a quarter of a century, but I do suspect that more people will continue to work at home as a result of this pandemic, now that so many have found a way to make this possible.
But at what cost? The article included a visual of an imaginary woman named Susan who suffered from obesity, ruined eyesight, bad posture and a hunchback, carpel tunnel syndrome, hair loss, dark circles under her eyes, premature skin wrinkling, pallor, and chronic stress. The digital creation also wore pajama pants and slippers and a shirt that couldn’t cover her bulging midriff. It was a frightening scenario, from a health standpoint.
Is this our future? I refuse to believe it—at least not for those who decide to take their health into their own hands (and who else’s hands should your health be in, anyway?). Let’s look at each one of these health disasters and discover how, even if you worked from home for the next 25 years of your life, you could easily avoid.
- Obesity. This metabolic disorder can develop due to the hormonal imbalances—especially high cortisol, insulin resistance, suppressed thyroid hormone, and imbalanced levels of leptin and ghrelin, that come from a poor diet high in sugar and processed fats, a sedentary lifestyle, and chronic stress. Obesity feels like it’s a hard disease to manage, especially in a culture that glorifies the easy life and has such easy access to cheap junk food, but you have a choice.
If you know you are at risk due to a sedentary job, you need to intervene by making a special effort to eat a plant-centric whole-food diet of mostly organic food, low on (or without) refined grains, dairy products, and sugar. Anyone with a desk job should keep their portions on the small side if they want to avoid obesity. Add 30 to 60 minutes of vigorous exercise on most days (you’re working it home—you can squeeze it in) and I guarantee that unless you have some rare disorder, you will not become obese. If you are obese now, you can reverse that condition.
- Poor eyesight. Staring at a computer (or phone) screen all day can cause what we are now calling “Computer Vision Syndrome.” The symptoms are dry, irritated eyes and blurred vision, because you are always focused on something close up, probably aren’t blinking enough, and rarely ever looking at things that are far away. You need to use your eye muscles for more than one thing if you want to keep them fit and able to focus both near and far. Just do these two things:
- Drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day to keep your eyes (and everything else) hydrated and use moisturizing eyedrops when your eyes feel dry;
- Take a break at least once an hour to stretch your eye muscles. Look up, down, right, left, and in circles in both directions (don’t move your head), then go outside or look out a window for just a few minutes. Focus on things that are far away. They may look blurry at first, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Think of it as cross-training for your eye muscles.
- Bad posture/hunchback. For goodness’ sake, sit up straight! Remember what your mother told you. A standing desk can help you to pay more attention to your posture, but most important is not to slump or jut your head forward towards the screen. Over time, these behaviors can cause a hunchback or what is sometimes called a dowager’s hump, as well as neck pain and headaches. Whenever you think of it, imagine someone pulling you up by the hair on the crown of your head until your entire body is stretched and straight. Your ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and the arches of your feet should all line up, and your head should be centered over your neck. Check in a full-length mirror to see what that looks like. Every time you catch yourself hunched over or slumping back in your chair, force yourself to sit up straight again. And do some sit-ups every night–strong abs make good posture easier to sustain.
- Carpel tunnel syndrome. This painful condition is the result of repetitive stress from typing or doing any other manual task over and over. Check your workstation. Your keyboard should be at a height where your hands, wrists, and forearms can be in a straight line. You shouldn’t have to “type up,” cranking your wrists to reach the keys (typing down is less injurious). Your mousepad should also be close to your keyboard so you don’t have to hold your arm out to the side. Ergonomic keyboards and computer mice can keep your hands and wrists in a more neutral position. These may be worth the investment. These neutral positions apply whether you are sitting or at a standing desk.
- Hair loss. Lack of vitamin D as well as low thyroid hormone can cause hair loss, but so can chronic stress (and rapid extreme weight loss). The article I saw attributed the hair loss to low vitamin D causing the autoimmune disease called alopecia, which causes hair loss, but the truth is that most of us already don’t get sufficient amounts of vitamin D anyway. I recommend almost everyone take a vitamin D3 supplement (not the cheaper and less bioavailable D2). Aim for about 1000 mgs per 50 pounds of body weight. To give your thyroid a boost, make sure to get enough iodine through sea vegetables and seafood as well as eggs, along with selenium (a Brazil nut a day is a good dose) and zinc (oysters are a great source, or take a supplement). Daily vigorous cardiovascular exercise is another way to boost thyroid function. For chronic stress concerns, see the last item in this list.
- Dark circles. When you don’t eat well and don’t exercise, you probably won’t sleep very well, which can cause dark circles and puffiness under your eyes. While chilled cucumber slices or green tea bags can take down the swelling in the moment, the best solution is to get better sleep. Stop looking at that computer at least 2 hours before bed, don’t eat a heavy late dinner, and keep your bedroom clean and as dark as possible at night. And remember that daily exercise will improve your sleep quality.
- Pallor. Pale skin can be caused by a lack of circulation from sitting all day, but it is often caused by anemia. Anemia is a condition of low iron and many women have this issue. To combat anemia, eat foods containing the most absorbable form of iron, heme iron, which is richest in red meat, organ meats, and seafood. If you don’t eat meat, load up on leafy greens and have some legumes (beans and lentils) and nuts every day. These contain non-heme iron but you still absorb some of it. Cooking in an uncoated cast iron skillet can also add some iron to your food. If the problem is made worse by very heavy periods, talk to an integrative doctor about the best natural options for balancing your hormones.
Heavy periods are often a sign of estrogen dominance, which can be modified by losing excess fat and using progesterone cream (under a doctor’s supervision). They could also be a sign of uterine fibroids or endometriosis, which your doctor can help treat. If your iron levels check out, you may just be suffering from low circulation or insufficient oxygen in your blood. You need to get up and move around more often—once and hour, stand up, stretch, take a few deep breaths, and do some jumping jacks. This will also give you a shot of energy.
- Premature wrinkles/aging skin. Inflammatory foods, especially processed foods, red meat, bacon and other cured meats, chicken (especially dark meat), cheese, fried food, roasted nuts, butter, and processed plant oils including margarine, create advanced glycation end-products (appropriately called AGEs), or glycotoxins, that can cause premature aging to your skin by increasing oxidative stress and inflammation. (They also contribute to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.) Sitting in your home office is no excuse to make poor food choices. The best way to keep your skin looking as young as possible is to avoid these foods and eat mostly foods that will make your skin look younger and more radiant. If you guessed that means eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, you guessed correctly. Leafy greens and brightly colored vegetables and fruits are the best for fighting the damaging effects of AGEs.
- Chronic stress. You may feel out of the loop, isolated from your co-workers, unfocused, unproductive, or just out of sorts when you first start working at home, which can contribute to chronic stress. However, if you do it regularly over time, you won’t feel those things and you will adjust to the new normal, which can help relieve stress. If more intervention is necessary, take these three powerful stress-busting actions:
- Do 30 to 60 minutes of vigorous exercise on every day that you are working;
- Get up, stretch, and walk around for at least 5 minutes every hour that you are sitting;
- Sit quietly and breathe deeply or practice your favorite meditation technique every morning and every evening for 10 to 20 minutes.
As you can see, working at home doesn’t have to doom you to a future health horror show. All you have to do is take care of yourself. If you do, you’ll also find that your brain works better, and your work might even improve. So let’s be optimistic, shall we? When you work at home, you have even more opportunities to schedule healthy habits and take more control over your time. It might actually be the path to a more healthful future.