How do you fit in exercise working from home while working long hours?
April 18, 2024 2:45 AM   Subscribe

If you work from home and have a heavy workload with long hours, how do you find time to exercise?

I used to be obese but got down to a normal BMI with diet and exercising 2 hours a day. I am currently in the best shape of my life. I am trying to lose more vanity pounds and am terrified of regaining. I have diet under control (I just eat steamed veg plus proteins for lunch and dinner and Greek yogurt with berries for breakfast) but I'm worried about the exercise part.

I may be working full-time from home soon and I will have a heavy workload with long hours and tight deadlines. I will have clients in other time-zones who message me all day, making it hard for me to switch off, even on weekends. I will no longer have so much time to exercise and about 30 minutes top per day. I may have to reduce the amount I eat to compensate though I am already not eating much and I dread going hungry because it will affect my concentration.

My job is computer-based and sedentary. It's mentally but not physically taxing except on the eyes and hands.

I own all the dumbbells I need, shoes and a yoga mat. I do not live near any nice gyms/exercise classes because I live in the middle of nowhere where housing is cheap(I cannot afford to move). I don't own a car and live in a place unsuitable for walks so I have to work out at home.

Working out makes me tired so I can't work out before work in the morning. For various reasons, I can't switch to a standing desk or sit on an exercise ball though I did consider a under-desk pedal but I'm afraid it will take up too much space. I'm considering 5 minute mini-workouts during eye-breaks and a 10 minute workout before lunch. Then a longer workout in the evening after work for as long as I manage(hopefully at least 30 minutes). I'm going to put dumbbells next to my desk.

How do other Mefites with similar schedules manage? I don't want to look like the Michelin Woman again!
posted by whitelotus to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I work from home with a busy schedule (but not quite as busy as yours) that includes some irregular hours. Here are some things that have helped me find time to work out. I have a dog, which means I go for walks twice a day, usually one longer one (30 min). Some mornings I start work early because of international colleagues. So I might be in meetings from 7-11am. Then I'll take a break for an hour to work out and shower, then I'll get back to work. You can do your workouts whenever your schedule allows, they don't have to be before or after work. I block off time in my work calendar in the evenings (like 6-7) a couple of days a week for workouts. And I try to be a lot more active on the weekends since I'm sitting at a computers 10 hours a day monday-friday. I try to do an intense cardio workout a couple of times a week. I don't have a Peleton but it might be ideal for you, you can probably get a cheaper one ised although you'd still have to pay the monthly subscription.
As general advice, you need to set boundaries to protect your health and well being. I'm sure some of your coworkers have kids and need to spend more than 30 minutes a day with them. You aren't getting paid nearly enough to work the hours you're putting in (based on your comment about not being able to afford to move).
posted by emd3737 at 3:24 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]

I don't really have any advice for fitting more exercise in, but I just wanted to say, I really don't think you should reduce the amount you eat to compensate for exercising (only!) 30 minutes a day, doing what sound like high-intensity workouts. That's plenty, and to me it sounds like you already might not be eating enough. How is the diet and exercise impacting your mental health?
posted by guessthis at 4:27 AM on April 18 [4 favorites]

I know it's not what you're asking, but I feel like overall, your health and wellbeing would be well served by zooming out a little from the very specific question of "how do I avoid putting on any weight at all costs?" to "how do I maintain my overall health and wellbeing?"

Being terrified of putting on weight, reducing your food intake when your exercise levels drop below 2 hours a day, never being able to switch off from work, are all tremendously harmful ways to live, and the longer you try and keep that iron grip on those kind of practices, the more damage they'll do to you, physically and mentally.

Being able to accept that your body shape/composition may fluctuate if your workload massively increases; trying to learn some body acceptance regardless of those fluctuations; aiming long term to reduce that work pressure - all these feel to me like much more important goals for your long-term wellbeing than trying to work out how to fit in another 90 mins exercise to an already exhausting day.
posted by penguin pie at 4:39 AM on April 18 [28 favorites]

Best answer: Something I’ve started doing at the advice of my personal trainer is setting a timer every hour and getting up and doing some movement of some kind for 5 minutes. It might not be vigorous exercise, but it’s some kind of movement. For me, I have an elliptical in my basement so that can be 2 flights of stairs, elliptical, and then 2 flights of stairs back up. Sometimes it’s just stretching and doing some mobility exercises. Anything you can do in 5 minutes.

I’m still working on getting good at it. I’m using an app called Stand Up that is super simple and bare bones. These are the benefits I’ve noticed so far:

1) Less hip and glute soreness from sitting long periods.
2) Better focus - you know those moments where you just start to stare blankly at things and can’t really get to the next thing? I’ve found the 5 minute break helps with that.
3) Some mental satisfaction in taking 5 minutes just for me.

Now, my fitness goals are very much structured around functional goals. So as I get older being able to continue to do the activities around the house that I want to, being able to bounce back from injury better, mental health/anxiety relief, etc. I see my personal trainer for 1 hour per week, and the rest of my activity is my 5 minutes/hour during the working day, and anything incidental I get up to otherwise. If your fitness goals are different, then this might not serve you quite the way you want it to. It would still be good for you, but might not help you reach your particular goals.
posted by eekernohan at 5:09 AM on April 18 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: I forgot to mention this but I actually wear a fitness tracker which tracks my steps.

guessthis: I was only eating 1200 calories for quite some months which is very little combined with the 2 hour workouts but I started having physical side-effects so I increased my calories somewhat.

I'm just having trouble deciding how much to let go on the diet and exercise front. I guess I can limit myself to 30 minutes of exercising per day but I cannot bring myself to eat more. I am a short, middle-aged woman so it is very easy to gain and hard to lose.

I became obese simply by eating slightly large meal portions plus some fattening snacks like potato chips (maybe half a medium bag) everyday. It wouldn't have been considered a lot of food for a taller woman or a man so I'm frightened of slipping again if I eat like other people.
posted by whitelotus at 5:23 AM on April 18

The people I work with who keep to strict exercise regimes either do so before or after hours (like going running at 6am, say), or they simply block out time on their calendars, same as for a meeting, and then they don't allow anything to schedule on top of that.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:27 AM on April 18 [12 favorites]

Leaving everything else aside, before vaccines became available, I exercised at home with a subscription to - and you may laugh - Walk At Home. What was great about this was the short high-intensity ones - fifteen fairly vigorous minutes. (Look at the "one-mile" ones). I used to bike commute and so was reasonably cardiovascularly fit and still found the fast ones challenging. What was great about these was that I really could talk myself into doing a fifteen minute one even if I didn't really feel like it.

Honestly, they were better for my back and upper body than bicycling. They're corny in a way but I just kind of decided to roll with that; it can be kind of soothing to just say "yes, these are not suave and sophisticated and of the moment, but they mean well and I'm going with that" and then let go.

It sounds like you've got weights and flexibility covered, so adding some cardio might be just the thing. You really can do these in a very small space; due to the configuration of my home, the best place for me to work out is maybe an 8x6 area in my room/office.
posted by Frowner at 5:48 AM on April 18 [8 favorites]

Best answer: One of the benefits of working outside the home/a more traditional schedule, was that it gave people structure and helped with boundaries because commuting etc.

WFH and in a more dynamic environment means you have to be deliberate about implementing structure yourself. On the one hand that is great because you can step away at 11am to exercise etc and return to work. Or you step away at a certain point early evening, even if you then come back later. On the other hand, it is entirely up to you to identify and protect these time slots.

So if your schedule is subject to creep you have to actively manage the creep. You do that by blocking time for whitelotus to get on with life stuff and then you use that time to do what you need to do including exercise. This could be blocking time before which you're not available, blocking lunch, blocking time in the evening to step away, exercise, eat etc.

People will take whatever time you don't protect. So if you want a sustainable work life set up you have to block non negotiable time to do you. Nobody will die if they wait to have an hr or two.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:27 AM on April 18 [18 favorites]

I exercise in the mornings. My kids have to be to school by 7:10, and work doesn't generally start until 8:30, so that's my exercise time. If you do nothing else, just walk. You don't have to run, you don't even have to jog. Just get your 10,000 steps. If it's warm enough where you are at that time, it's a great time to walk.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:16 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]

You will need to set some boundaries when you start working from home about when you can be expected to be in contact. Schedule your workout time into your calendar just as you would any other activity.
posted by Miko at 7:36 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]

When I worked a high-stress, long-hours, unpleasant job, I successfully reframed trips to the gym as a treat for myself, when I didn't have to think about anything except taking care of myself. Although there were peak periods where I couldn't do anything at all but work and sleep, I want to forcefully echo what someone said above--these kinds of jobs will take everything you don't defend for yourself. If you're in this much demand, you have some leverage. If you meekly give and give and give, no one will stop taking.

As someone who has fought the battle at the boundary of plus size and so empathizes very much, I would also echo the comments above about the benefits of also cultivating mental health and overall well-being. Like your job, our culture has you torturing yourself. Living in terror of your body (especially as it's starting to age), living with such self-disgust...these are, in the end, even less sustainable than a heavy workload. It is no way to be. I know our culture doesn't make it easy, but, again, if you don't defend yourself, it will eat you up inside entirely.
posted by praemunire at 7:44 AM on April 18 [8 favorites]

These Darebee workouts are how I get any movement in some days. They're super customizable and can be done in any unit of time (or energy) that you have available.

I also like this 8-minute arm workout. It's often difficult for me to do all 8 minutes at once, so I break it up into chunks and intersperse squats or whatever during the breaks.

On days where I can't get out for a big workout of 30+ consecutive minutes (plus an outfit change plus a shower), those two options can get me where I need to get in terms of reaching goals on my fitness tracker over the course of the day. Plus it's nice to get up and enjoy several mini-breaks from work.
posted by knotty knots at 8:44 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]

I also have a sedentary desk job and I need to exercise for the sake of my back/neck/shoulders. I do this dumbbell circuit right at the end of my day when then emails start to trickle down, but you could probably fit it in during lunch. Since they’re different muscle groups you don’t really have to wait in between sets, so it really only takes like 20 minutes. You mentioned putting dumbbells next to your desk - if you also have a yoga mat or something you’re all set.
posted by thebots at 10:00 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]

Just adding a few things:

With WFH boundaries, saying “I have a class Tu and Th from 6-8” or whatever can be a good way to block time. That it’s a gym class is no one’s business. It really is important to get those guard rails in - and if you do it at the start, everyone gets used to your schedule.

I’d concentrate your weekday efforts on keeping muscle mass and do the cardio more on “class” nights and weekends. Cardio burns calories while you’re doing it but muscle burns all day long. Plus you can do quick sets throughout the day.

Consider setting a plateau here on your weight - holding your weight more or less steady for a bit may actually help let your body adjust to your current weight. You can always consider that a win - learning to hold steady.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:52 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]

I have occasional meetings where I am truly on listen only mode. I will sometimes hop on a stationary bike during those meetings. The main challenge with that is that the things that make working out mentally rejuvenating and fun, such as music, aren't very compatible. I also find "walking meetings" great for certain topics, but it sounds like walking in your neighborhood isn't a great option for you. Good luck!
posted by slidell at 1:20 PM on April 18

Have you considered intermittent fasting at all to help keep your weight where you want it? I have been IF-ing since Oct and I have found it to be much easier to stick to, especially compared to low cal diets or diets where foods were either allowed or 'bad'. The cal restriction you mentioned and the amount of exercise would not be sustainable for me. People think of IF-ing as denying yourself food but from being a community of fasters I've come to realize that for me it's more about being very deliberate about when you are and aren't eating and as part of that, becoming more in touch with what your body is asking for and hunger that is asking for nourishment vs. hunger that is coming from habits, suppressed emotions, boredom. For example, I'm learning that if I snack during my time to eat I won't be able to enough healthy food at dinner, so having that restricted time period is helping me undo my mindless eating habits that weren't serving me (as a short middle aged woman staring down the menopause transition and fighting the weight gain that often comes with those hormonal changes). It might be something to consider for your toolbox, I like Gin Stephens approach a lot - it's more gentle and about figuring out what works for your body and your life vs. much of what I read online which can be pretty dogmatic/extreme. She has a weekly podcast in addition to books, etc.

I'm working on my grip strength right now, I can't do it for very long so I keep my trainer at hand and sneak it in when there's a few minutes here and there, sort of like eekernohan mentions. I'm thinking I should do the same with dumbells, i.e. keep them close to the coffee maker, etc.
posted by snowymorninblues at 1:24 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]

I've been working 70-80 hours/week, at least 6 days/week, for the past 6 months and run 4-5x week and try to fit in at least one strength workout. I get up early to run before my workday starts (well, I answer the late night emails around 6am, and there is no reason anyone in my office needs to hear from me again until at least 8am, so I have time to run and shower in that window since I handled all the overnight emergencies already), and I squeeze the strength stuff in between calls/meetings as others have suggested since one can do a quick set of push-ups/lunges/whatever in WFH clothes. There are some days when I really and truly just cannot and take the extra hour of sleep instead, and I try not to feel bad about that.

The thing that's actually harder for me is not eating a lot of treats because I feel sorry for myself about how much I have to work (and how crappy my job is right now for reasons outside of my control). So if you have that side of things under control, just doing any sort of exercise regularly is probably good enough and you should pick based on what's fun and relaxing for you since it's probably your only time truly free of work other than sleep.
posted by snaw at 5:06 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]

I came here to suggest a Peloton. I keep one right next to my desk so I can just grab time on it opportunistically. But I've found I'm more successful at doing it regularly if I protect time for it and commit to using that time for it. Doing that protected (some of) my sanity during lockdown.

And a warning: if you do get an exercise machine like an elliptical or Peloton, you're introducing very repetitive motions. So make sure to get a professional consultant to help you adjust the machine to your body mechanics, so that what you're repeating is good for you. And remember to stretch! I injured myself by working some muscles aggressively/consistently while underworking some nearby ones, and failing to stretch enough. The injury didn't happen on the bike, it happened while I was walking down the street doing nothing strenuous. Took a couple of years to undo the damage, during which time my exercise habits have suffered, to say the least.
posted by nadise at 5:22 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]

If you have a TV and room to put your yoga mat in front of it, and if you can afford it, you could consider getting a Nintendo Switch and Ring Fit Adventure (many slightly used copies for sale on Ebay, etc.). It’s pretty customizable and lower friction to fit in some movement in your day with some variation and not too much decision fatigue or mental effort, as it will count and track your reps for you. You can follow a progressive course or have other flexible mode options (even including one that doesn’t require active screen time).
posted by eyeball at 5:32 PM on April 18

Response by poster: Just wanted to add that I'm aiming for 5k steps per day which isn't a lot. Unfortunately, my fitness tracker doesn't seem to count dumbbell lifting and other strength/non-cardio exercises that don't involve moving around as steps. I do cardio in my regular 2 hour workouts but I'm afraid I will have to cut it down a lot due to lack of time in the future.

I don't really have room for large exercise equipment like a Peleton etc. or access to a room with TV. The space is really limited.
posted by whitelotus at 5:51 PM on April 18

I take calls and answer emails and aims on my walk (3miles) in to work and my walk home, and when I work from home, I make myself go on a little walk at roughly the same time to get some daylight and some movement in. Some walking is better than nothing always, and I find it’s really good to go stare at some trees, or to observe my neighborhood.

I also am ruthless about carving out time for myself, sometimes mid day, setting meetings with myself, and sometimes by simply being unavailable after standard work hours. If I need to talk to a client in Australia at 9pm, well I stop work at 5pm, live my life for 4 hours and hop back on to take care of business as needed. It’s ok to do so! Your job, no matter how fancy, (and I have a fancy stressful job) does not need to get your 100% 24/7. It is ok to half ass it on some days, or to set aside a half day for “research and reading” or self development. Prioritizing yourself is ok, and this internet stranger gives you permission to do so.

Good luck making space for the things that are important to you. I believe you’ll be able to get there!
posted by larthegreat at 5:59 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]

I would test whether your area is truly unsuitable for walks. I know traffic can be a problem on the road, but could you walk up and down your driveway or around your own yard a few times? Asking because walking is fantastic exercise, and if you could do a twenty minute walk (or similar low impact exercise) before work I think you're unlikely to have the fatigue you mention.

I would also recommend a TRX system for strength. Set it up over a doorframe and aim for a two 7 minute bursts during the day. That plus 10k steps and longer weekend workouts would be a great level of exercise for most people.
posted by Chausette at 2:53 AM on April 19

I literally just finished the NYT 7 minute workout (it's available via a free app or online) which is a short but fairly intensive burst of exercise. It won't make you buff, but it gives me a little burst of energy. There are other very brief Tabata style or HIIT workouts available via Youtube or other free apps like FitOn. I also have long workdays and try to do it once or twice a day just to have some physical activity, but there's no reason you couldn't do a 5-10 minute exercise interval 4 or 5 times a day. I would also suggest doing a SHORT workout in the morning before work--try something that's marketed as a warm-up.

That said, though, I agree with everyone else that if you're taking a job that doesn't have a lot of intrinsic boundaries, it's going to be up to you to set those boundaries for yourself or you WILL burn out. The idea that you are only going to have 30 minutes to yourself per day makes me want to cry on your behalf.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 11:49 AM on April 19 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone, I'll be making playlists of short 5-10 min workouts and experimenting with doing them during breaks.
posted by whitelotus at 7:19 PM on April 19

« Older Process server near Clinch County/Fargo, GA?   |   Is my iPhoto library still lost? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments