Six months into the coronavirus pandemic, “Zoom fatigue” is a growing problem. Work-related meetings are nothing new, but remaining in the same chair and staring into a screen while clicking from one digital meeting to another is new for many people. This workplace reality has drastically reduced our opportunities for movement. Now, more than ever, physical and mental health are important.
Abbie Smith-Ryan, an associate professor of exercise and nutrition in the College of Arts & Sciences’ department of exercise and sport science, says exercise is the best medicine. Particularly important these days, exercise strengthens your immune system. And regular exercise reduces illness frequency and severity, she said.
Working from home takes a toll on daily movement, with the majority of people not getting enough exercise. Smith-Ryan recommends aiming for about 30 minutes a day and a minimum of 10,000 steps a day. When sitting in a chair all day, that minimum can be hard to reach.
“Sitting too long at your computer can cause joint pain and stiffness, particularly in your neck and back,” Smith-Ryan said. “In the pandemic, exercise is even more important. The pandemic is both a mental and physical challenge, and exercise is a helpful strategy.”
Exercise releases endorphins that improve mood, prevent depression and reduce stress. It’s also essential for heart health and can help prevent diabetes, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions.
But for many exercise is a chore. How do we make exercise more fun?
The idea of exercise can be overwhelming, Smith-Ryan said. But a workout doesn’t have to be some huge routine. Her advice? Break things up. Start slow. Keep it manageable.
Instead of exercising 30 minutes a day at one time, try three 10-minute sessions. During work hours, Smith-Ryan recommends going for short walks between Zoom calls or turning off your camera and walking during some meetings.
Other tips include body weight squats at your chair, wrist curls, stretching your arms behind your back and rolling your neck, all to stimulate blood flow and keep joints mobile.
“Working from home may provide you more time to exercise, minimizing travel time to and from campus, but creating times for exercise can feel like a burden,” she said. “It takes 14 days for a habit to stick, so you can involve other family and people to create habits together.”
Participating in a favorite activity like dancing or gardening is also a good way to get exercise.
Online fitness opportunities are more readily available now, including Zumba, yoga and other workshops. UNC Campus Recreation hosts 30- to 45-minute Facebook Live fitness classes for staff and faculty.
The bottom line?
“Move every day, especially if you’re working from home, juggling kids or other work,” Smith-Ryan said. “I can’t emphasize enough how good it is for your mental and physical health.”