We all know why exercise is important in general. However, if you are an online teacher, and especially if your sole job is working online, then exercise is more important than you think. Not only is working online detrimental to your health but it can also lead to a poor mental state over time. Exercise can be the antidote to these issues and help to improve your overall quality of life.
What health issues can arise from teaching online?
There are a multitude of problems which can arise from being at a computer for long periods at a time. These can range from eye problems to back issues and many others. Some of these issues can even be long-term and extremely painful in certain circumstances.
These issues affect all online workers but can be of particular concern to online ESL teachers. This is because online English teachers are required to stay behind their computer for multi-hour stretches of time often with no break in between. Even if you do get a break it may be spent filling out reports or preparing for your next class.
Because of this you are literally trapped behind your computer and wasting away for multiple hours each day. This can be compounded if you work for more than one company teaching at different times of the day.
Let’s take a look at some of the different issues that can impact you so that you can understand what is happening to your body while you are sitting behind the computer.
Sitting puts your body in an unnatural position. This isn’t an issue if you are only sitting for a short period of time but if you are sitting at a computer for three or more hour stretches then this has a compounding impact.
The problem arises from the fact that many people tend to slouch forward as they are working which moves the alignment of the head, neck, shoulders, and spine out of the normal range. This causes pressure on the head, neck, and shoulders which pushes them down and overtime creates issues with spinal alignment.
This poor alignment can cause a range of problems including muscle strain, disc problems such as compression, constriction of blood vessels and nerves, and generally back pains. These problems are all made worse over time and can be extremely painful.
Blood Circulation Issues
It’s something we often think about when taking long flights but most of us probably don’t think too hard about circulation issues when teaching English online. However, as you are sitting down you are putting pressure on various parts of your body which will slow down circulation.
Because your body is in an unnatural position and your circulation is slowed there is a risk of blood pooling around your legs. This can be very dangerous and can lead to swollen legs and ankles. In severe cases, it can lead to complications such as Deep Vein Thrombosis which is known to have a mortality rate of 20%.
As online ESL teaching requires you to sit for multiple hours at a time without a standing break in many cases this can be of particular concern. The longer you are sitting down the longer you circulation is impeded and the higher your chances of developing complications over time.
We’ve all heard that if you don’t use it you lose it. This goes for your muscles when they go through prolonged periods of disuse. If you are sitting for longer than you are exercising you are going to experience what is called disuse atrophy.
This is the atrophy, or degradation of, muscles due to the lack of use as opposed to atrophy from neurogenic causes. Over a long enough period of time if you are sedentary you are going to experience loss of muscle definition as well as bulk and mass. This also means that other important functions which rely on muscles will be affected including balance, posture, and coordination.
Something that not many people think about but when you are sitting for prolonged periods of time you are adversely affecting your brain. Remember the poor blood circulation we spoke of earlier? This is going to affect your brain as well as other parts of the body.
Your brain needs blood and oxygen in order to function properly and when it doesn’t get these things it begins to lose function. Recent studies have even linked sitting too much to thinning of certain regions of the brain which are vital for memory.
If this isn’t enough to get you worried there are strong associations between sitting and a sedentary life and dementia. So, even though you are doing an activity such as teaching where you are using a lot of mental energy you are damaging your brain in the long run.
Anxiety and Depression
It’s probably not too surprising from the other complications listed above. However, people who sit for long periods each day have higher rates of anxiety and depression.
This can be compounded for online ESL teachers by the fact that many of us are working on China time and are working either late in the evening or early in the morning. Because of this we are usually working at times that there is little sun and are therefore minimizing our exposure to direct sunlight which can be vital for proper health.
If you are working for multiple schools during multiple 3 and 4-hour slots you are also minimizing your contact with friends and family. This can further lead to feelings of isolation and depression over a long enough period of time.
Why can exercise help me as an online teacher?
Hopefully, after reading the above complications of long periods of sitting, you understand exactly what the risks of teaching English online can be. However, you may be now wondering what you can do to alleviate these risks. The solution in one word, exercise.
Unless you quit teaching you are going to be at risk for all of the above complications. You also are probably not in a situation where you can take the recommended 5-minute breaks to walk around every 20 to 30 minutes.
So, you are going to need to make sure you are getting exercise when you are not teaching. This includes aerobic activity such as swimming or running as well as strength training.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes each week of moderate aerobic activity and twice a week strength training of all major muscle groups. This breaks down to 25 minutes a day for 6 days of aerobic exercise and then twice a week strength training for about 30 minutes. Not a lot of time to prevent potentially fatal complications.
The benefits you will get from this exercise are immense. Regular exercise is going to help to strengthen your muscles and bones which can combat the poor posture and muscle atrophy from sitting too much.
You will also see a marked improvement in mental clarity and function as regular physical activity releases proteins which play a crucial role in brain development. This is in combination with a reduction in anxiety and depression which you may suffer from as a result of prolonged sitting and isolation.
So, not only is your body going to be doing better, but your mind will be sharper and your mood improved. This is going to be great for the student in your class as they are going to be seeing the best version of you.
These are all benefits that are not only going to be helpful for your online teaching but throughout your life and even after you quit teaching. For this reason, implementing an exercise routine should be a top priority if you want to put forth the best version of you both in and out of the classroom.