Summary:

You probably find it hard to motivate yourself when you’re feeling under the weather. But even if you’re not sick, low levels of motivation may still be related to health. It turns out that how fit you are can have an effect on your productivity levels.

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Even if you work online, doing a job that you could conceivably do from a prone position with a notebook resting on your stomach, you probably find that motivating yourself to get to work when you’re feeling under the weather is still awfully hard. But even if you’re not sick, low levels of motivation may still be related to health. It turns out that how fit you are can have a serious effect on your productivity levels.

The Problem: Getting Bigger All the Time

A recent study conducted by Duke University found that the “hidden” cost of obesity on productivity was around $73 billion in the U.S. And that’s above and beyond the healthcare costs related to being very overweight.

According to the researchers conducting the study, “[o]besity’s hidden costs… stem from the fact that obese people tend to be less productive than normal-weight people while at work — simply accounting for the extra sick days they take misses a big part of the picture.”

Obesity isn’t the only health issue that can lead to less-than-optimal work performance. Smoking, eating poorly, and not getting enough exercise have also been linked to decreased productivity.

The trend in the U.S. is increasingly toward larger waistlines and more sedentary lifestyles, which, in turn, is leading to a drop in the ability of workers to do work. For at-home workers, who tend to be within easy reach of the fridge and at a computer for eight or more hours a day, the effect can be even more pronounced.

Web workers also tend to miss out on some benefits that encourage an active lifestyle, like subsidized gym memberships, so it can be hard to encourage worker health at home. But if you’re having trouble motivating yourself, think about it this way: greater health equals greater productivity.

The Solution: Exploit Your Freedom

Web workers have an advantage over traditional office workers. When you work from home, generally speaking, you have a degree of flexibility built into your day. If there’s a gym nearby, you can get out to that for a half-an-hour each day. Even if you have to pay for your own membership, the increase in energy you’ll get back as a result should make up the cost thanks to your ability to work longer and harder. If you’re lucky, you might even have a gym in your building, or in your own home, in which case not using it just can’t be justified from a cost/benefit perspective. Getting out during the day at least a few times even just to walk should help stave off more serious problems like obesity, too.

Use an exercise ball as your office chair for a portion of the day, if you feel you can’t peel yourself away from the desk. Crunches and push-ups in quick sets between tasks is another great way to get a little bit of exercise throughout the day with relatively low impact. It might draw some funny stares if you were in a traditional office setting, but that’s the beauty of working from home.

You can eat what you want when you work from home, but here again it can really be an advantage. You won’t be tempted to just be lazy and eat out every single day for lunch. Instead, you can save time, money and help yourself feel better by preparing healthy meals in advance to be eaten during the week.

There are some great tips for how you can eat more healthily at work, and the same logic applies when working from home. And you have less of an excuse than your office-bound colleagues because healthier ingredients should be ready to hand if you’re being smart about your grocery shopping.

The Benefit: Better Work, Done More Quickly

If you’re healthy, you’ll produce in a healthy manner. That means you won’t have to work as hard to get things done, and the quality of your work will be more consistent. I find that I’m much more focused and able to concentrate when I’m being active regularly and eating the right things. A good work out will clear your head, and might help you come up with a solution to a tricky problem.

It can be hard to keep active, but now studies are emerging that say you should do so, not just for the sake of your own health, which isn’t reason enough for many, but for the sake of your wallet. When it comes to the bottom line, many are much less willing to let things slide. I know I’m more likely to stay fit when I think about it as a matter of being professional versus not. Maybe that’s the kick in the pants you need, too.

Want to learn more about the health impacts of a virtual workforce? Check out our Net:Work conference in San Francisco in December.

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