blog Exercise Inspiration

The physical effect of working from home

There are some noticeable changes some of us might have experienced, when less active; like weight gain, fatigue and aches here and there. But what happens inside our bodies when we stop moving, or move considerably less, in our day to day lives?

A blog post written by Myklebust, A., Sørland, H., Thorshaug Skapalen, J., Boogaart, M & Heijmans, N. – A student cooperation from HAN (Netherlands) and HVL (Norway)

The corona virus has affected the daily lives of people all over the world. Many jobs have been lost, we meet less often in person and we spend much more time at home. By doing most things from home, a lot of us miss out on our usual daily activity. By no longer walking to work and school, and spending most of the hours of the day, in the comfort of our own homes, there is a great risk our physical functional health will decline.

There are some noticeable changes some of us might have experienced, when less active; like weight gain, fatigue and aches here and there. But what happens inside our bodies when we stop moving, or move considerably less, in our day to day lives?

Complications of a non-ergonomic workplace

Because of COVID-19 restrictions some people are forced to work from home. Those people often haven’t got access to an ergonomic place to work such as they have at their work. For example, your pc-monitor is smaller and not adjustable, your desk isn’t adjustable, and your non ergonomically (desk)chair is not suited for hours of working. This causes your shoulders to raise, your upper back to curve and your head is not positioned above your spine court. This position can cause muscle tension in that area and give pressure on the spine and joints.

What happens when this goes on for too long, and what can you do about it?

When tension in the muscle occurs, and the goal is to maintain the body position, we speak of isometric muscle contraction. When there is tension in the muscles in an isometric way, the problem is that the blood flow into the muscles is not optimal. In this static position, your body asks little of the cardiovascular system. For example, a muscle in rest has about 20% oxygen extraction while a muscle in use can extract oxygen up to 80-90%. Also if the muscles are used alternately concentric and eccentric with rhythmic contractions, this creates a pulsating blood flow. This will not happen when the muscle is kept in position. The reason why movement is such a good thing for your body! [1]

When the muscle is kept in this state with less oxygen (anaerobic), the muscle keeps building up lactic acid and H+ molecules as a product that causes muscle acidification. If only the agonist is constantly tensioned, the antagonist and other immobilized muscles will eventually show muscle fiber breakdown at a rapid pace. But also the agonist will show signs of muscle fiber breakdown and an adjustment of the muscle length occurs. The unused muscle fibers are simply seen by the body as no longer necessary.[3]

The body repositions the muscle fibers and the associated connective tissue structures in response to the demand for labor. Ultimately, this will ensure that your body adapts to the unnatural posture that is often assumed, with the result that you can experience complaints around these muscles in daily life.

Adjusting the body to this new posture also increases pressure on the vertebrae and joints. This can lead to fatigue, pain, tightness of the nerves, wear and deformities.[2]

A vicious circle can develop as a result of the above complaints. The complaints can cause people to assume a uncomfartable/awkward sitting posture again, so that complaints will worsen.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Inactivity and relating Cardiovascular & Muscular complications

When you decide to get fit and thus starting exercises, your body adapts after each workout to become better. Your body does this by building for example muscle with amino acids. Your muscles can either be in a hypertrophy (protein synthesis is higher than degradation) or atrophy (higher degradation than synthesis) state. The body builds your muscles for specific physical activity. A body builder will have large muscles which can move a lot of weight, whereas those engaged in endurance activity develop more of the proteins needed to combat muscle fatigue [4]. Inactivity and failing to recruit your muscles on a regular basis will lead to degradation of the muscle tissues: muscle atrophy. This means loss of muscle tissue due to inactivity over a long period of time. The body breaks down the muscle tissue that does not get any use to conserve energy. On the other side, this type of atrophy can often be reversed by exercise and better nutrition, and it is therefore important to take breaks to move your body and use your muscles.

Training enhances the capacity of the heart, lungs and blood to deliver oxygen to the body cells and to remove waste from the cells. By training your endurance your maximum VO2 max increase thus giving your body more oxygen. Besides this a few other things occur [4]:

– Increases cardiac output and oxygen delivery

– Increase blood volume per heart beat

– Slows resting pulse rate

– Increases oxygen usage

– Reduces blood pressure

In a study seven endurance subjects were followed and had their VO2 max measured after 12, 21,56 and 84 days after cessation of training. Their max vo2 declined by 7% during the first 21 days and after 56 days by 16% [5].

In order to prevent posture complaints and your muscles and cardiovascular system from degrading we recommend you consider any or all of the advice below. If there is no possibility of another workplace, we recommend the following to prevent these complaints:

1. Try to mobilize your muscles (especially neck, shoulders, back) as much as possible before, during and after work. This ensures the supply of energy to the muscles and the removal of waste products.

2. Do not sit in the same position for too long. Switch at least every 20 minutes even if it’s just getting a cup of coffee, get up to move around and at the same time do some stretching exercises for the affected area.

3. While training your body, try to focus on the opposing muscles instead of the ones you currently have tension in, this creates a balance of the musculoskeletal system.

4. Make sure your workplace is not in the same room where you eat and drink your food. If you have the option, sit on a different floor so that you can use the stairs as a training tool. Go out for a walk during lunchtime.

5. Try to be active when you get the opportunity, skip the car as much as possible, for instance when going for grocery shopping and have a stroll through a nearby park, having some physical activity already impacts your body majorly.

Stay save and remember: some activity is better than none!


[1] Burgt, M. van der, Burgerhout, W., Alessie, J., Houwink, A., (2017) Fysiologie, Bloedsomloop(p 190-191) 8th edition Houten, Netherlands

[2] Ranasinghe, P., Perera, Y.S., Lamabadusuriya, D.A. et al., (2011), Work-related complaints of arm, neck and shoulder among computer office workers in an Asian country: prevalence and validation of a risk-factor questionnaire. BMC Musculoskelet Disord 12, art.68

[3] Moree, J.J. de, (2008) Dynamiek van het menselijk bindweefsel, Bindweefsel van de spieren(p 187) 5th edition, Houten, Netherlands

[4] Whitney, E., Rolfes, S. (2016). Understanding Nutrition. Fitness: physical activity, Nutrients, and body adaptations(p. 446). Stamford: Cengage learning.

[5] Coyle EF, Martin WH 3rd, Sinacore DR, Joyner MJ, Hagberg JM, Holloszy JO. Time course of loss of adaptations after stopping prolonged intense endurance training. J Appl Physiol Respir Environ Exerc Physiol. 1984 Dec;57(6):1857-64. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1984.57.6.1857. PMID: 6511559

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