I've been freelancing for 5 years and in the past 2 years really began to notice how my body was starting to fail on me. Nagging pains I had in my 20s were getting worse by my 30s and at times debilitating. I'm fit and healthy by most standards so something wasn't right. I decided to look at my habits, test things out and created a few golden rules I try to follow on a daily basis. This post covers 8 of my healthy habits that have really benefited me in the past year.
A bit about me.
Once I hit my 30s, I noticed that ever year I would start to have more work related injuries. From a sore low back, strained eyes, a tight neck, tight hips, all of the above started to become worse. The part that boggled me a bit was I'm more active than the average person. I normally do cardio every day or second day, play Tennis weekly and do some workouts in the mix. I also saw massage therapists pretty frequently so it seemed like I had a pretty good health regiment.
After some reflection I started to realize that the bad habits I had accumulated in my 20s were just coming out in my 30s. In addition, the freelancing I had taken on in the past 5 years heightened the effects. Working without interruptions meant less breaks. Changing my office to a coffee shop or co-working space meant I had less control over my ergonomics.
To combat this, in the last year I did some research, compiled notes from health professionals and built my own list of healthy habits to follow. I have been using these for the past half year and have noticed vast improvements to date. I hope that you find some of my tips useful.
(note: I'm not a health professional, consult your local health care provider if you have major issues)
1. Be Mindful
This may seem like an odd one, but I highly recommend thinking & writing about your health every day. I keep a log through a google spreadsheet that tracks what I've done and how I feel at the end of the day. My hope is that I will be able to determine what is working for me long term.
Throughout the day I try to listen to my body. Is there a part of my shoulder, back or leg that is nagging me? If so I change it up, I move from sitting to standing. Or if I really need to, I go for a run and hope the deep breathing and movement resets the parts of me that's hurting. Being a freelancer you should have the flexibility to control your schedule a bit more which is great if you need to just get out of the "office" and move.
- Keep a log or diary to track your health.
- Stretch and do mini exercises throughout the day. Consult a Physio for specific exercises to address your common pains.
- Try the 7 minute workout.
2. Don't wait till the end of the day
I remember a health practitioner telling me a study that showed it takes exponentially more time to rewind the effects of sitting. As an example, lets say it took 5 minutes of walking to reverse the negative affects of sitting for 30 minutes. If you sit for double the amount at 60 minutes, it wouldn't be 10 minutes of moving but 25 minutes of moving to reverse the effects. These are made up numbers but the point is that the longer you go without a break, the much harder it is to reverse the damage.
My own experience supports this, as my solution to working all day was to do one big exercise at the end of the day. I found in the past year that breaking up the day with smaller exercise is more effective. In fact, I would prefer running for a total of 30 minutes in the middle of my day and than running for 1 hour at the end. I've always found that exercise mid day or earlier in the day maximizes my energy and makes me feel less achy by the end.
- Make room for 15–20 minute breaks within your day to exercise, especially during your "lull".
- Cut your lunch short to do exercise.
- Walk briskly to grab a coffee.
3. Get a standing desk. Just don't stand all day.
Standing desks are a great invention and it's amazing at how many types of solutions there are on the market right now. When I started freelancing, I decided it was time and bought a desk from Varidesk.
If you have the ergonomics right, standing while working is a nice change up. You'll start to use your legs and feet more and generally I find it easier to engage your core. The major benefit for me has been the reduction in tight hips and quads.
The downside is that if you stand too much you can do other damage. I started out standing too much and ended up having a really sore back by the end of the week on top of sore feet.
As a freelancer, because you can be on the move quite a bit a standing desk at your home office is not always a solution. I find a middle ground here by bringing a portable standing desk solution from Stand Stand. I normally don't actually stand when I use it because I find it just means my neck crane down. Instead I use it to bring my monitor up to eye level and rely on a wireless keyboard + mouse to work.
- Use a standing desk that has many options in height.
- Try to stand & sit about 50/50.
- Aim for 25 mins to 50 mins max for each if you can.
- Get a soft pad for your feet when you stand.
- When working at coffee shops consider using bars or higher tables so you can stand.
4. Use a Pomodoro timer
The Pomodoro technique is a way to manage your time by breaking them out into chunks. For example, I have a pomodoro app installed on my computer that goes off every 25 minutes. Usually after 25 minutes I will get up, move around and take a break for 5 minutes or less. Then I will get back to work and start it up again. I don't always take the 25 minute break if I'm in the "zone", but knowing it has gone off sticks in the back of my mind and eventually I'll take that break.
As a freelance developer, you need to make sure you get up and move. Without co-workers to chat with or water cooler breaks, you run the risk of staying in one position for too long.
- I use the Be Focused app from Xwavesoft to manage my time. Although there are plenty of time / pomodoro apps on the market.
5. Protect Your Eyes
I have pretty decent eye sight and don't need prescription glasses… yet. I used to have a lot better eye sight in my 20s, probably 20/20 but now I know it's not there anymore. While I'm not sure this will necessarily save your vision, I do believe that the glasses I bought from gunnar reduce the strain on my eyes and maybe help me sleep better at night. If you consider the amount of staring you do on a screen, the first thing you should protect are your eyes. Especially for the younger generation growing up with mobile devices in their teens, the amount of screen time you will have by the time you hit your mid 30's is going to be dramatically more than any other generation.
- Consider investing in glasses that help with "digital eye strain". I've been using a pair from Gunnar and have been quite happy with them.
6. Stretch every day
While I do recommend some exercise everyday, I would say stretching is more important. Make sure to stretch out the hips, gluts and shoulders everyday to avoid limited mobility. If you really want to take care of your body then do some Yoga, Pilates or some dynamic stretching. There are a ton of free resources online to get you started. Most likely there are also a ton of awesome Yoga & Pilate studios nearby you as well.
- Find a good Yoga course online. I like Yoga with Adrienne.
7. Activate Your Core
When you think of your core, go beyond the 6 pack, think of what's underneath that. If you already get this then you can skip this but if you don't then here's an article which goes over them in more technical terms.
Basically, if you can activate your core while you work and move around you'll find that you become stronger in all aspects of life. First, your posture will likely improve which will bring the rest of your body into alignment. Also, it will highlight poor ergonomics once you do find proper alignment because you'll see how your body has being pushed into a position which likely encourages the shrugging of your shoulders and tilt of your neck.
- Do planks every day and start to find exercises which engage your core. Better yet, see your local physio to get some exercises to get the basics on engaging your core properly.
8. Aim for cardio every 1–2 days if possible.
Cardio to me is a given. The benefits of getting your heart going with a run, bike, swim or whatever it is that you do are vast. Aside from burning calories and improving your mood, you'll be getting your body moving. I recommend that you put cardio within the break you carve out for yourself following Tip 2 on breaking up your day.
- Remember to stretch after you do a cardio exercise. Otherwise you might end up tighter and be creating an injury in the long term.
I hope you found some of these tips useful. If you have any daily habits you incorporate into your daily life I would love to hear them. There is no one size fits all solution, I'm constantly tweaking what I do so I expect this to change over time.
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