In March 2020, when the first lockdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic came into effect, life as we know it skidded to a shocking stop. All social gatherings and activities were suspended, public spaces were shut down indefinitely, and everyone was confined indoors to curb the spread of COVID-19.
As weeks turned into months, this pattern of staying at home led to a number of lifestyle changes, some of which have been detrimental to the overall health and well-being of individuals spending most of their time indoors. While regular mealtimes, experiments with new recipes and bakes and quality time with the family are among some of the more productive shifts for upper socio-economic groups, there has also been a significant rise in lifestyle patterns that have contributed to weakened health.
Slouching and back pain
According to a Times of India report, work from home has become a major part of the lives of many professionals in the IT, media and business sectors. A tangible shift in work patterns has set in, on the one hand in the form of no commuting hassles and proper meal times and on the other, in the 'always-on' work culture, increased anxiety and irregular sleep patterns.
Moreover, being confined indoors, in front of the screen for long working hours throughout the day and later, spending a bulk of free time watching online content or attending virtual events has increased the strain on the eyes causing frequent headaches.
One of the most concerning aspects of the social distancing norms that have left many working from home for the better part of last year has been the early onset of back pain. While this phenomenon is common among the elderly who suffer from poor bone health, an India Today report has suggested that there have been numerous complaints by the younger population as well that has started suffering from backache owing to longer hours in front of the screen and poor ergonomic choices.
This means that most remote workers tend to prop up laptops on the bed or the sofa, which not only strains the neck but also puts pressure on the back. The absence of office chairs that allow an elevation which ensures an erect back and thus the computer screen to be at eye level has been one of the major reasons for increase in back pain among the younger working force.
Hunched over the computer, most develop a habit of slouching at other time too, that puts excessive pressure on the soft tissues and stretch muscles that pull on the spine, the same report added. While using a backrest is advisable, at home, it is difficult to create such an office set-up and an atmosphere of work interspersed with leisure.
Unhealthy weight gain
Another common effect of the pandemic induced lockdown has been unhealthy weight issues for a large chunk of the urban work from home populace. Regular mealtimes and nourishing home-cooked food has in part contributed to bettering the immunity of many individuals but on the flip side a sedentary lifestyle and increased stress levels have introduced issues of weight gain in large numbers. When outdoor activities and gyms were halted for a long time in early 2020, it furthered a lethargy that is making it difficult for multiple people to resume regular workouts.
Fitness levels have dropped significantly due to a lack of motivation to take regular walks and the fizzled enthusiasm for home workouts. This has also led to a rise in unhealthy weight gain, with less of muscle growth and more of excessive and unutilised fat stores. As the screen time has risen, so too has the habit of watching online content into the late hours of the night, wreaking havoc with sleeping patterns and the natural circadian rhythm. Such habits can increase pressure on bodily systems which in turn reduce the activity levels of an individual, cause irritability and inevitably lead back to weight gain and strained joints.
According to a survey conducted by Times of India, a Kolkata-based IT professional who clocks in 12 hours of work said that this schedule has taken a nasty toll on his lifestyle affecting his physical and mental health, not to mention the putting on of a few extra kilos. Realising the need to get more physical activity, many in Kolkata have taken to walking long distances for chores, the report added, to enhance regular physical activity and feel refreshed after a long day's work.
Even as we oscillate in and out of social distancing and lockdown norms, the work from home culture has now seeped into our psyche. More and more time spent in front of the screen, excessive binging on streaming platforms and unwholesome food choices could also be among the factors that keep contributing to the physical ailments that have sprung up in the last year. Easy solutions like enjoying warm home-cooked meals at the right time, getting proper exercise and regulating sleep patterns have been among the most advocated tips for working professionals to navigate the new normal and emerge out of the pandemic fitter and healthier.