With many white-collar employees slowly returning to the office, it’s fair to say some are more excited than others. And they may have many reasons too. Scientists are now saying that returning to the office comes with its own, somewhat surprising, health benefits for our body and mind. What are they?
Your commute is easy exercise
For more than a year, your trip into work may have amounted to little more than a bleary-eyed stumble downstairs to your living room table. But scientists say that a return to a proper commute – involving walking, sunshine and fresh air – can do wonders for our health.
Despite our well-intentioned promises at the beginning of the pandemic to use the extra time to ‘get into running’, physical activity actually dropped worldwide during each lockdown, according to a study of daily step count measurements published last year by the University of California.
A daily commute, in contrast, forces us to use our legs, says Jane Ogden, professor in health psychology at the University of Surrey. "Getting out of the house and going somewhere, even if it’s driving or by public transport, means you are actually walking around and being less sedentary. We know being sedentary is incredibly unhealthy."
Getting outside also exposes us to sunshine and vitamin D, boosting the strength of bones, teeth, and muscles; and strengthening our immune systems, making us less vulnerable to infections.
Routine is good for us
Doctors have become interested in recent years in the power of a structured day. A University of Minnesota study found that patients who incorporated healthy habits into their lives in a structured, routine way – like eating fruit every morning at the same time or jogging the same route – were far more likely to stick to them.
These routines can easily collapse when we work from home, says Prof Ogden. Mealtimes become erratic.
Our psychological distinction between work and leisure evaporates... "Structure in your day helps you manage your time," says Prof Ogden. "It’s good to eat three meals a day at fairly fixed times, to keep energy levels going and your digestion active. It’s harder to do that when you’re home, near the fridge."
The power of the tea break
Even once we’ve arrived at the office and switched on our computer, we still tend to move around more than we would while working from home, say doctors. Daily exercise is boosted by activities as simple as strolling over to a colleague’s desk to chat, says Dr Jenna Macciochi, an immunologist at the University of Sussex. "Before you know it you’ve done over 10,000 steps."
Walking to the tea station also means less time in your chair, which improves posture, making back and neck pain less likely. At the office, you’ll also have the option of a more ergonomic chair - a blessing for a home-worker who’s spent the months encased in a poorly crafted living room chair, or slumped on a sofa or bed.
No wonder there’s been an explosion in back pain during lockdown.
And while you’re brewing tea, you’re probably chatting to a colleague, leading us on to...
Casual connections can boost immunity
We tend to think it is life’s big relationships – with children, husbands, wives – that are most important for our mental health. But, in recent years, psychologists have shed light on the power of small, casual connections. Think of the colleague at the next desk you might talk to about football or the weather; or the receptionist you chat with. You’re unlikely to keep up with either while WFH.
While we often associate the office with stress, the loneliness and isolation of home working means that returning to the office might actually make us less stressed, according to doctors. And lower stress means stronger immune systems, too.
Restore your sleep rhythm
We all know a home-worker who rolls out of bed 10 minutes before starting work, taking bleary-eyed Zoom calls under their duvet, and remaining in pyjamas or athleisure wear into the afternoon.
No wonder, then, that a large number of adults say their sleep worsened during the pandemic (versus eight per cent who said it improved, and 49 per cent who recorded no change), according to a survey of 3,000 commissioned by The Sleep School, a private clinic in London.
Doctors think a return to the office could whip our sleep schedule back into shape.
The Daily Telegraph