How to Fix "WFH Ankles" via Exercise and Compression
In these WFH times you may have noticed that your feet and lower legs are much more swollen at the end of the day than they were in "normal" times. That's because your schedule is different, and so are the demands on your body.
WFH means that many of us are sitting in front of our computers all day long, with few excuses to get up and walk around. We're not going out for lunch, we're not going out for a coffee, we're not wandering over to shoot the breeze with colleagues (or discuss work-related things with colleagues, boss!). Sitting in one position hour after hour can cause your feet and lower legs to swell, and puts you at greater risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a potentially life-threatening blood clot.
The answer, of course, is to prioritize getting up and moving around, as often as possible, but when you're in full flow (or in the middle of an endless Zoom call), that's not as easy as it sounds.
Physiotherapist Jenny Huang recommends moving every 30 minutes to reduce stiffness and re-lubricate joints with synovial fluid (the clear fluid in our joints that 'greases' the surfaces when we move). Jenny says, "As we sit and work, we often assume a position of comfort (slouching with head forward). I tell my clients to move in the opposite direction to how they sit and to use a wall for biofeedback. Stand with your head and butt against a wall, move your arms overhead so the backs of your hands and elbows touch the wall, then pull your elbows down towards your torso like "W" to retract your shoulder blades and activate your postural muscles."
But wait! Jenny has more! "Another quick exercise is to just do squats over your work chair," she says. "The best technique is to hover over the chair, with your knees aligned over your ankles, activating your gluteal muscles [that's your butt, FYI] and quads. Repeat five times."
Chiropractor Dr. Jesse Timm has another chair-based exercise he recommends to clients who are working from home. Jesse's exercise is a seated "cat cow", a yoga pose designed to improve the flexibility of your spine. Start in a seated position, with your back straight and hips, shoulders and head in alignment. Extend your head upward, a movement that will push your chest out and arch your back, inhaling as you do. Then exhale, and round your back so your shoulders and head come forward into a slump. Repeat 10 times every hour. Here's Dr. Jesse showing us how it's done.
Something that may also help is compression. Worn during athletic activity, compression socks have been shown to stimulate blood flow and reduce lactic acid build-up, which can reduce, prevent or shorten the length of delayed onset muscle soreness. But compression socks can also help you sit and stand all day with energized legs. [Frequent travelers know this, and for years have worn compression socks to reduce the risk of developing DVT.]
The impact of WFH on your body can be significant (have another cookie! 🍪 😂), so if you're still working from home (and it looks as though many people will be working from home well into next year), you need to remake your environment so it supports your health and training as well as possible.
Repurpose some of the time you're saving not commuting. Set alarms if you need reminders to get up and walk around. Do exercises (as above) to get your muscles moving and your blood flowing. Maintain your hydration level (going to the kitchen for a refill is a chance to get up!).