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When I left my office desk job for freelance, I imagined what my life would be like-- working hard as my own boss, but also having more time for myself. Many of my dreams have come true, but with an unexpected consequence-- a significant weight gain. The scale perplexed me. I should be able to lose weight because I have more flexibility with exercise and no more temptations of office pizza parties, birthday cakes, and happy hours.
But I hadn't accounted for the stress and long hours that accounted for a sedentary lifestyle. While I was still doing regular runs, I had given up my daily commutes by bicycle to work. Those commutes were easy 20-minute rides, but amounted more than 3 hours of weekly exercise. Also, I worked in an office with a terrible elevator and I frequently used the stairs and took stress-relieving walks during my lunch break.
Apparently, I am not alone. The sedentary lifestyle is endemic in the U.S., particularly among freelancers with occupations that require long hours at a computer. Long stretches of inactivity at a desk have even generated a buzz phrase: "the sitting disease." The popular media publicized a South Carolina study that found sedentary men had a greater risk of dying from heart disease, even if they exercised. What this suggests is that exercise may not be enough; we must find a way to get moving every day.
Here are some options to increase activity and fitness that are tailored to the freelance work culture.
Pay Yourself First
“Pay yourself first” is a popular buzz phrase from personal finance and retirement planning. But it also applies to fitness, in that your health is your greatest personal asset. The reason many of us went into freelance was to have more rewarding work and a better quality of life. Make your personal well being as important as cultivating happy clients.
For me, I used to start working on client projects first thing in the morning at 7am. Morning is when I am at my best and most relaxed. I believed that if I did work first, I would be more productive and then I could exercise in the afternoon. But my day became writing in the morning, client calls in the afternoon, and take out and Hulu in the evening. Instead, I exercise first when I am feeling good. I’m out in the sunshine before my clients get to the office and the burst of energy carries me farther through the day.
Exercise on the schedule that works for you, but treat it like a commitment. Eventually it will become a habit and perhaps also a passion.
Stand Up at Work
There are countless ways to develop the habit of standing or walking while doing work. The stand up meeting is popular for Agile software development teams, but the solo entrepreneur may find it useful. Standing or pacing during telephone calls, webinars, and teleconferences is a simple practice that can also keep you engaged and alert. Personally, I do my housework during conferences that only require me to listen. If you have a whiteboard, you may enjoy standing up to write out your goals, tasks, milestones, or maybe doodle silly sketches to keep you motivated.
The standing desk is becoming a popular option for workers and is well suited to freelancers, who don't have to ask for permission to modify the office. I have a wooden drafting table that would make a good standing table, if only I would use it more. You can make or buy a table. The cost varies from $100 USD or you can splurge on a $1,500 treadmill desk. Many blogs describe how to shop for or build a standing desk, including this story of a man who built a treadmill desk for only $100.
Join a league, team, or group and get engaged in physical activity. Time is a challenge, but if you devote only one day a week to a group activity, you'll build fitness and perhaps friendships. Your local coworking spaces and freelance cooperatives may sport activities. Independents Hall, a popular Philadelphia startup and freelance community, has had a soccer league and post-game relaxing at their favorite local bar. Meetup.com networking events are not always cocktail based, but involve hikes, trips, and even dancing. The gym is considered by many to be a popular networking spot, especially if you are willing to take off your earbuds and chat.
Volunteering can move the muscles and satisfy your soul. For three years, I volunteered as a tech in an emergency department. I was on my feet and took patients to radiology or a quick dash to get blood to the lab. Physical labor is a good antidote to fatigue caused by intense computer work. Also, there are numerous nonprofits devoted to battling obesity through sports. Many of these programs are youth-focused, so you can serve as mentor while also getting in shape. Check out the United Way’s volunteer finder or try Volunteer Match, which allows you to browse opportunities in your local area.
And if you can afford an entrance fee, there are countless numbers of walks, runs, rides, and swims to compete and celebrate progress. You can motivate yourself with a difficult, but achievable goal and then train for the event.
In many ways, meeting a fitness plan is perfectly suited to freelance work. And fitness can augment your business, even if only to preserve your health and sanity. Find a schedule and activities that works for you. You will likely find that physical activity has unexpected benefits for your work. Perhaps you will meet a client prospect or developing more stamina for your work. Get out there and have fun.