Although it may seem otherwise, teleworking already existed before the current pandemic. However, for a year it turned out the most optimal alternative during confinement and the restriction measures to continue with the work activity of many people and companies. Even in cases where it was previously not considered feasible, as indicated various studies published in 2020.
Companies and administrations resist telework despite the explosion of infections and the tightening of restrictions
In fact, once the health crisis has been overcome, it is expected that this working method will be definitively incorporated, since it provides several advantages: both for the company (reduction in costs for the job) and for the workers (less problem of transport, more flexible hours, net gain in time, etc.) and society (less density of traffic and pollution).
“However, it also brings associated changes that can be negative for our well-being,” he explains to SINC Rocío Cupeiro Coto, professor at the Faculty of Physical Activity and Sports Sciences (INEF), “What increased isolation and isolation or the difficulty of separating work time from leisure time, among others “.
Likewise, the level of daily activity can also influence health and quality of life, as has already been observed in traditional ways of working. “The support from the company and colleagues, non-work social contact and family conciliation problems may be relevant in the workers’ state, but we cannot forget that the decrease in physical activity or the inadequacy of the work material (such as our chair) can have a great impact, “he adds.
As has been observed in other countries during confinement, it is very likely that not have to leave home has reduced the time we spend moving, and our body notices that. “The change to teleworking is not the same for all people: in the jobs developed almost exclusively at the foot of the desk there is less difference than in those in which transfers or face-to-face meetings were required, currently limited”.
Of course, as indicated by Cupeiro, a member of the research group of the Effort Physiology Laboratory of the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM), very possibly in all positions daily physical activity has been reduced, since there is not even a trip from home to work.
“Physical inactivity has great health implications and in the presence of non-communicable diseases, as highlighted in 2010 by the World Health Organization (who), so it is important that we are aware of its increase due to teleworking “, continues the researcher.
Teleworking ‘uses’ fewer calories
One of the first consequences that can occur in teleworking is the so-called positive energy imbalance. In other words, the lack of movement reduces the energy that our body uses each day (daily energy expenditure), which can generate a lack of harmony between the calories we eat and those we use. And this, according to numerous investigations, triggers being overweight or obese.
“Beyond the aesthetic component that this weight gain may have, it is notable for the associated diseases (such as metabolic syndrome, hypertension and cardiovascular disorders) and the consequent increase in health expenditure that this entails, especially in our country“Cupeiro clarifies.
Whether there is an increase in fat mass or a decrease in muscle mass (both harmful to the body), a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of various metabolic, musculoskeletal or psychological disorders, or of worsening their symptoms, as revealed various publications.
“The human body is made to move. And spending most of the day sitting or lying down is something that takes a toll on it,” says the expert. In fact, in a manifesto of the General Council of Physical and Sports Education (COLEF Council), published last year, it was recalled how physical exercise improves the prognosis of 26 chronic pathologies and it was warned that, during confinement, the level of physical activity of the adult, youth and child population worsened.
The problem of spending many hours in the chair
According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), not everything comes down to the metabolic and body composition aspect. Teleworking, by imposing a sitting position for a long time, can cause or aggravate musculoskeletal disorders.
A new study carried out in two Spanish universities relates muscle and bone pain to teleworking in times of COVID-19. Thus, if the teleworker does not have optimal ergonomic conditions for the development of their activity, they may be predisposed to present these discomforts, both muscle and tendons and other anatomical structures. “The appearance of pain in the lumbar area is frequent. Prolonged sitting is one of the physical factors that influence the appearance of these discomforts,” says Cupeiro.
For the specialist, the solution is to make the worker aware of the physical risks of teleworking and to facilitate strategies; in addition to urging employer companies and public institutions to facilitate the practice of physical activity, preferably supervised to reduce the risk of injury and increase its effectiveness.
In 2018, a published research on the Spanish magazine of Public Health showed how physical activity is an effective tool to reduce sickness-related absenteeism in sedentary employees. “The companies themselves would benefit from this promotion of mobility, since the data relate higher levels of activity in workers with lower levels of absenteeism,” insists the expert.
Regarding the institutions, Cupeiro considers that an important advance would be to recognize the provision of physical exercise services by qualified professionals as an essential activity, whether federated or not, especially with the current health crisis: “This, on the one hand, would allow traveling in confined areas and thus facilitating adherence to sport, and on the other hand, it would open the door to reducing taxes associated with this type of task “.
Any opportunity is good to move
Last November, the WHO launched a new guide of recommendations for physical activity and sedentary habits under the motto ‘every move counts’. It explains that more than 5 million deaths a year they could be avoided if the world’s population were more active.
The simplest individual strategy, according to experts, is for working people to reduce their sitting time, both during and outside the working day: take advantage of phone calls to walk, for example, or run errands while walking or cycling, which could also have a positive impact on the family economy and the environment.
“A great alternative for change is to start doing planned physical exercise on a regular basis, and much better if it is supervised by certified professionals. This staff will indicate the amount, intensity and type of activity that best suits our characteristics and objectives”, advises the INEF professor. “Some physical activity is always better than none,” he concludes.