“Is freelancing making you fat?”
That’s a question I asked seven years ago when writing this original post. We took a look at some of the health risks involved in working from home as a solopreneur.
Now feels like a good time to revisit the issue of staying healthy while working from a home office, so I wanted to share some updates and new tips and tools I’ve learned over the years.
Freedom vs Discipline: You’re in Control
In the original version of this article, we talked about the ways freelancing can make it easier to make unhealthy decisions. That might mean sitting too long at your desk, snacking all day because the kitchen is always nearby, or causing yourself unnecessary stress in how you run your business.
The freedom to do what you want all day is awesome. But a lack of discipline can turn a good thing bad quickly.
Fortunately working at home means you have more control than a typical employee. That means you can set good policies and make good decisions other workers might not have the luxury of.
- You can choose to work in any environment or position you want with whatever equipment you want and can afford.
- You can surround yourself with healthy snack options that keep you energized all day.
- You can take a break and go for a walk almost any time you want.
So yes, getting and staying healthy while working from home requires discipline and good decisions. But that very act of working at home and being your own boss makes it much easier to make those good decisions when it comes to your health and fitness.
Here we’ll focus on the physical side of staying healthier while working from home. Working more movement into your day and eating healthier from your home office are good places to start.
Freelance Fitness at Your “Desk”
It’s easy to get caught up in our work with no boss looking over our shoulder or co-workers interrupting us. That can lead to long hours sitting at a desk. Here are some home office fitness options that might help you move more, even taking your work with you:
- Work from your mobile or tablet while you’re on a stationary bike. If you have one, consider going for a “ride” while you check your email and social media accounts, review site analytics, approve blog comments, or other routine admin tasks. Recumbent bikes make this a breeze.
- Take short walking breaks. Even if you can’t walk for an hour, you can probably squeeze in several 10-minute walks each day. Use them as an excuse to get up and stretch your legs. You might even be able to take short calls during your walks, listen to business podcasts to further your professional education, or dictate notes into your smartphone while you get some fresh air.
- Keep hand weights or resistance bands at your desk and pull them out for a few sets in between tasks on your to-do list.
- Do desk yoga to keep your arms, legs, neck, and back stretched out so you don’t get tense or cramp up from sitting too long.
- If you can afford one and have the space for one, consider working at a treadmill desk.
What if you’re just not the workout type? You can still be more active by simply using a standing desk. And when working from home, you don’t need to run it by a boss first for approval.
The great thing about standing desks? You don’t need anything fancy.
You can rig up your own system from hanging a drop desk on your wall to adding modular storage pieces on top of your desk. Currently I use a sturdy laptop stand called the TriGear Premier 81 that converts to a standing work station. Then, when I sit at my desk, the stand keeps the screen elevated at the proper ergonomic height, and I use a separate bluetooth keyboard on the desktop.
Make sure you get a comfortable mat too. This can be any anti-fatigue mat from flat options to topographic mats like Topo. My current favorite is a folded yoga mat paired with some yoga blocks so I can change my foot position easily. It’s more comfortable (by far) than any commercial anti-fatigue mat I’ve used. But I had less luck with other yoga mats. So if you try this trick, make sure it’s a high-density one (not too soft). It makes all the difference.
Not sure if a standing desk is for you? Before spending money, see what you have around the house. Give a homemade standing desk a test run for a few days or weeks and see how you feel before investing in a premium option like the Varidesk.
Healthy Home Office Foods
One of the biggest drawbacks to working at home that we looked at in the original version of this article was that food – often junk food – can be around 24/7. But being at home, you have more choices for healthy meals and snacks while you work. Here are a few simple options and recipes:
Nuts and dried fruit
If you buy dried fruit, make sure it isn’t loaded with added sugar. Better yet, if you have a dehydrator, dehydrate your own favorite fruits. I find mangos, apples, and bananas work quite well.
Nuts are another good option. I like buying them raw and unsalted when possible. Then I either assemble my own mixed nuts with my favorites or I roast them (and they’re so much better when roasted fresh at home).
Microwave baked apples with berries
I use very small red delicious apples and a bag of frozen mixed berries for this. But you can choose any type of apple and frozen or fresh berry.
- Flatten the apple’s bottom so it will sit up straight on the plate (if necessary).
- Slice off the top of the apple.
- Core the apple.
- Stuff a few berries in the center.
- Microwave it on a small plate for about 3 minutes. Watch your apple closely. It will start to shrivel as it “bakes.”
Your cooking time will vary based on the size of your apple and wattage of your microwave. Average and large apples can take 4 minutes or more.
Crustless quiche / egg bake
If you prefer to start work shortly after waking, you might not want to cook breakfast every morning. This crustless egg bake is a great option for those times.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Grease a 9”x13” casserole dish.
- Put in 2 bags of frozen spinach (or fresh), a bag of sundried tomatoes (fresh can make the dish too soggy), a chopped onion (fresh or frozen is fine), a large can of sliced mushrooms (or I prefer 16 oz of pre-sautéed fresh mushrooms), about a cup of shredded parmesan (not grated), 8 eggs beaten with 1 cup of whole milk or cream (I often swap in half & half because I tend to have it on-hand), and salt and pepper to taste.
- Mix to distribute things evenly.
- Bake uncovered for about 40 minutes (may take a bit longer depending on how many vegetables you add – stick it with a fork; when it comes out clean and the top is golden, it’s done).
- Let it cool a while at room temperature.
- Cut it into six squares.
- Wrap each individually in plastic wrap, then put them in freezer bags.
When you’re ready to eat a serving, unwrap them, put them on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave them on high for five minutes.
You can substitute pretty much any vegetables or cheeses in this dish. It’s a great way to use up random frozen vegetables you might have around.
A lot of folks don’t like to freeze eggs because they get a spongey or rubbery texture. As long as you have some yolk in there and plenty of moist vegetables, you should be fine. (If you want to cut calories or cholesterol, you could use 2-3 full eggs and egg whites for the rest.)
I found doubling the spinach from my original version made all the difference in texture. And zucchini has a similar effect. Speaking of which…
The image above is a zucchini-kale-lemon-rosemary variation I make from time to time. If you make it in a deeper, and even disposable, pan like I did for that one, I find this dish travels very well. It’s a great option if you ever have a working breakfast with some freelance friends, and I find it’s always a hit.
For that variation I slice up two zucchinis and use 8 eggs, a large bunch of kale, about a cup of parmesan, a caramelized onion “crust” on the bottom, the juice of a fresh lemon, and top it with lemon zest and fresh rosemary sprigs.
Those are just a few ways you can move more and eat healthier when working from home as a freelancer or other type of solopreneur. Do you have any favorite exercises, recipes, or scheduling tips to share to squeeze better health into your work day? Tell me how you make your home office a healthier place to be in the comments below.