Of all the relationships that have completely changed since the start of the pandemic, the most surprising might be our relationship with our own physical body. Most people who can do their jobs remotely have done so for the better part of the past two years, and Americans’ average daily steps have dropped by 20 percent, according to a 2020 observational study. It was probably due, in part, to the lack of a commute to work (even for car commuters, walking from a parking lot is more steps than getting from bed to kitchen table). That plunge into physical activity has now pushed many of us to think of exercise not as a dreaded addition to our busy schedules, but as an integral part of our lives.
Emily Kuykendall, a Philadelphia-based human resources professional, told me that she never used to intentionally exercise, because she struggled with the fact that, as an older woman, exercise was often framed as a way to change her body. She would take lunchtime walks around the sprawling campus of her work to break up the day, but that was as far as physical exertion. She was later diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and when her office life moved to a screen due to social distancing measures, she became even more sedentary. That confluence of events gave him a chance to think about What Y why wanted to exercise and what it could do for his health. For the first time in his life, Kuykendall, 27, said he began to think of intentional movement as fundamental to his well-being and not weight loss.
The people I spoke with agreed that the pandemic helped change their relationship with exercise, which previously felt like a chore they never managed to make a habit of. Kuykendall started walking and taking Zoom yoga classes, and the more he moved, the more he wanted to move. She told me that she begins by wondering, “What I want to do? Do I want to go for a walk? Dance to music for five minutes? Section? Nap? All of those things are taking care of my body and listening to what it specifically wants right now.” The rethinking that all kinds of activities — not just intense cardio, for example — can have health benefits is one of the positive outcomes of working from home, says Marissa Goldberg, who advises companies on the best ways to to implement remote work for employees. . Before the pandemic, people may have had limited opportunities to fit exercise into the day. But when work moved online for many, at the same time gyms across the country closed, the options for what we perceive as exercise expanded. For her part, Goldberg sets a 30-minute timer every day to clean, finish a to-do list, take a midday walk to clear her head, or dance to music.
Getting Americans to exercise in general has been a challenge for decades. “We only have enough time, energy, or attention to pursue so many goals at once,” David Conroy, a professor of kinesiology and human development at Penn State University, told me. “And physical activity, because the rewards are often so delayed, a lot of people just don’t value it as much as some of the other outcomes that would happen if we pursued other goals.” So a change in perception that leads people to incorporate even small amounts of movement every day is still a win. If you view working from home as an opportunity to shape your day to your liking, Goldberg told me, it can actually lead to a more physically healthy person.
in his book No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Give You a Life of FitnessMichelle Segar, a health coach and behavioral health scientist, wrote that getting people physically active is about “understanding how to choose and enjoy daily movement, of almost any kind, as long as it makes them feel good. right”. When people recognize that a daily walk feels good and is also satisfying, they are much more likely to choose to continue doing it and even seek more movement. Trying to stick to a gym routine that you dread because you’re “supposed” to or because you want to lose weight is something that, for most Americans, seldom gets immediate or lasting results. Consequently, many exercise goals are easily abandoned.
Smartwatches, whose sales have skyrocketed during the pandemic, have played a role in reimagining exercise by rewarding people for less strenuous movement. Fitbit, for example, helped popularize the goal of 10,000 steps per day and will notify you if you haven’t walked at least 250 steps per hour. And Apple Watch will note if you’ve “closed three rings” each day by reaching a certain calorie burn goal, step goal, and standing time goal. Those are the kinds of small accomplishments that Eli Diaz, a 28-year-old voice actor from Los Angeles, has had to embrace. He used to get regular exercise by biking or walking his wife to work a couple of miles away. But he told me via email that he’s been feeling “incredibly sedentary” for the past two years, which has been a bit of a shock to the system. At his most desperate, Diaz resorted to walking circles around his living room couch in short bursts throughout the day. He said he still can’t always exercise like he did before the pandemic, as she is immunocompromised and COVID-19 is an ever-present risk. But he now sees that all movement is valuable: “I’m grateful right now that I can exercise.”
Remote work is here to stay for at least some of us, and this exercise mindset could last well beyond the present moment. After all, working from home in the age of the pandemic isn’t “normal” work from home, Goldberg said, and many people she’s spoken to are feeling depressed and lethargic. She tends to recommend that clients start tracking their movements so they can see that when they didn’t stand for hours or walked more than a few hundred steps a day, that was probably part of the reason for her mood. In that way, remote work can start a process of discovering the real importance of moving and figuring out how you’d like to address that need. “A lot of emotional, mental and physical energy is saved by being in your own environment,” she said. “It’s almost like finding yourself again.” Perhaps now we can collectively redefine what counts as exercise. As parts of our lives continue to be mediated through a screen, moving our bodies with intention can serve as a good reminder that we have one.