Has working from home changed your health habits?

Eliminating the commute can create more time for exercise.
Eliminating the commute can create more time for exercise.
Image: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
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Like many people fortunate enough to have the option, I’ve worked from home since Covid-19 hit, theoretically freeing up more time in the day to get my Goop on—you know, waking at dawn, jogging before work, developing an intricate skincare routine, drinking hot water with lemon like celebrities always say they do in their wellness diaries for unclear reasons (“toxins”).

And yet I have not reached the wellness heights to which I aspire. True, I eat less processed food now, having lost access to office snack drawers filled with Sun Chips and Oreo Thins. But working from home also means that I’m exercising less, since I no longer have to walk to and from the subway or back and forth from meetings and lunches. Health-wise, it’s probably a wash.

Apparently, I’m in the minority. Two-thirds of remote workers in the US say they’re living more healthfully since they began working from home, according to a recent poll from Morning Brew and Harris. This finding intrigued me largely because I have no idea what other people are up to these days. Working from home means that there are fewer opportunities to chat with colleagues and acquaintances about what their daily lives are like, and learn who’s purchased a Peloton or who’s struggling with insomnia.

Eager to get more detail about how remote work is affecting our health habits, we asked Quartz readers to share how their lifestyles have changed in this extraordinary year, for better and for worse. Here’s what they told us.

Replacing the commute with working out

Some readers report they have more time to exercise since switching to remote work. “Now that I do not have to commute 32 miles to work every day I have gotten back into exercising five days a week [and] riding my horse regularly,” a reader named Katie writes to us.

Morning fitness buffs sound especially grateful for the extra time. “I feel that it is easier to work out since I can just wake up and walk over to the next room and begin a workout, compared to hauling myself six blocks to the closest Barry’s class at a ridiculous hour in the morning,” writes another reader, Manuri.

Several readers mentioned that their exercise habits had changed in part because they’d moved to a new town or city in the wake of the pandemic. “I do workout videos every morning, hiking several times a week now that I live in the suburbs,” says Allie.

But relocating hasn’t helped everyone get moving. Pamela, who moved in 2019 from New York City to a suburb of San Francisco, says the closures of her local fitness center and Pilates studio threw a wrench in her routine. She goes for walks but finds the suburbs make for a dull backdrop. “I’m a city person when it comes to walks,” she writes. “I loved to see small quirky shops; loved to see the passing parade of humanity that flowed on Manhattan sidewalks. I always came home with a story.”

And Diane says she has found it harder to make time for exercise, as her working hours have crept later and later into the day. “With work from home, I have colleagues emailing from 7 am to midnight, and even on weekends,” she reports. “The lines of what is acceptable work etiquette have blurred.”

For Nathan, quarantine didn’t immediately supercharge his exercise routine; initially, he struggled with anxiety and depression. But over time, he says, he started taking the stairs in his apartment building. This helped create a snowball effect. “Then I started with just one push-up, then two the next day, and now I’m up to fifty push-ups,” he writes. “Now I have a sit-up bench, a set of weights, and a pull-up bar in my home gym.”

The art of home cooking

Since food is deeply tied up with emotions for many, it’s no surprise that the stress of the pandemic is having an impact on how we eat. “I eat more than I used to because the isolation of the pandemic has left empty spaces in my soul,” writes Pamela. “Food is the closest substitute to the wonderful and genuine socializing I did in Manhattan and was beginning to do in my new home. Zoom is better than nothing, but it’s not the real thing.”

Devon writes that she’s been struggling to get into a home-cooking groove: “I can’t seem to get into a habit of grocery shopping to be able to cook well for myself,” she says. “Both cooking and not being addicted to TV/social media were things I prided myself on before Covid, and now I’m pretty bummed I can’t seem to dig my way out of just doing what feels good in the moment.”

On the other hand, several readers expressed appreciation for the fact that they now have more time to prepare meals during the workday. RJ, in Washington DC, reports that she’s eating healthier, including “home cooked-breakfasts and lunches because I don’t have to grab from the kitchen and go, or keep it in a Tupperware in the office fridge.”

Manuri says she’s also drinking less since she began working from home. “Not having constant happy hour socials, drinks with clients, etc. has also made a huge difference in how healthy I feel,” she reports.

Nathan says that he’s found added motivation in improving his diet and exercise routines by getting an “accountability partner” on GetMotivatedBuddies, a subreddit where people looking to achieve a goal keep one another updated on their progress and cheer one another on.

“I also started tracking everything I eat with the FoodVisor app, and this also works really well,” he writes. “It’s an AI-powered calorie counting app, so it makes it slightly easier to track my meals. It’s also fun to have a photographic record of all the food I eat.”

The hidden benefits of working from home

Of course, how healthy we feel goes way beyond diet and exercise, encompassing everything from sleep to our relationships and psychological well-being. Katie, for example, finds that cutting out her commute has had a direct physical benefit: “I don’t have the persistent neck pain and sciatic pain that plagued me when I was spending so much of my day in a vehicle,” she says.

Manuri says she’s getting more sleep now that she can sleep in right until she has to switch on her computer or start a workout. “Not only is not having to get up early (because I don’t need to look presentable or commute to work), I also find I go to bed earlier because I no longer go for dinner or drinks with friends,” she adds.

A number of readers say that while they’ve made positive changes in their lifestyles, they understand that people in other circumstances (say, those with caregiving responsibilities or stressful work situations) may not have the same options and opportunities.

RJ, for example, notes that she doesn’t have children, enjoys solo time, and is lucky to work for a company that trusts employees to manage their own schedules and productivity. The added flexibility has made it easier for her to duck out for doctors’ appointments and take care of her mental health, and to spend a month with her mother during a family crisis. In addition, she writes, “My partner is in the military. It has been impossible for us to always live in the same place. My company just approved my request to work where he is stationed in Florida for two years. We’ll finally be together for awhile!”

Nathan, meanwhile, ticks off a list of other helpful lifestyle changes he’s made, including meditation, therapy, keeping a gratitude journal, and tracking his sleep with a Fitbit in order to adjust his sleeping patterns. But he’s careful to keep these changes in perspective.

“I don’t want to use the phrase ‘silver lining’ because over 1.3 million people have died from Covid-19, and I truly wish that none of this had ever happened,” he writes. “My life definitely isn’t ‘better’ now, but I think I found something to latch onto with this routine, and it’s helped me to cope with some of the stress and anxiety.”