Germany: Home office brought less movement, more kilos, and back problems

Is the trend towards home offices beneficial to health? The SMHS 2021 addressed this question with fresh evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The impact of working from home

Is the trend towards home offices beneficial to health? The Sports, Medicine and Health Summit 2021 addressed this question with fresh evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flexible workplace models have been on the rise for years. But since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have gained enormous importance. The so-called home office, working from home, is currently a much-discussed part of everyday life for more and more people. Dr. Stefan Peters from the German Association for Health Sports and Sports Therapy (German: Deutschen Verband für Gesundheitssport und Sporttherapie) gave an overview of physical activity in the home office.

According to figures from the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, almost 40% of employees wanted to work at home. A 2020 study of 2,600 respondents from the health insurance fund DAK Gesundheit showed that 60% considered themselves more productive in a home office setting.

Is reputation worse than reality?

In the long run, home office hours are unhealthy, many media suggest. The assumption does not seem to be completely out of the air. Certain physical activities are eliminated: the walk to work, for example. On the other hand, physical activity could also increase because freed-up time, such as the elimination of the car commute to work, is replaced by exercise. The higher flexibility in time planning could also favour physical activity.

A selective review shows heterogeneous results

"Sweet spot" hypothesis

It could be, the speaker said, that many home office hours are detrimental to physical activity, but too little home office is as well, so that a medium level proves beneficial. There are contradictory results on this and there are limitations in the selective reviews aforementioned: The cross-sectional studies contain confounding variables such as country differences, type of occupation, socio-economic status, or urban area.

At present, the question remains open: is the home office the decisive factor, or rather is time flexibility the key issue? Many studies point to the latter. In general, large individual differences are to be expected depending on the personality, motivation, skills and goals of a given individual.

The COVID-19 pandemic

Currently, of course, this issue must be considered against the backdrop of the pandemic. A recent paper (Peters et al) on physical activity in the COVID-19 pandemic gives an overview. During the SMHS discussion, there were arguments in favor of strategies that promote physical activity that can be especially tailored to the home office setting.

Uwe Dresel, responsible for DAK Gesundheit’s Department for Health Prevention and Promotion, presented the results of a survey commissioned at the company that included 7,040 employees (age 18-65) in Germany in the period 29 January 2021 to 19 February 2021.

DAK Gesundheit study results on home office trends during COVID-19

How frequent is home office currently

How does physical activity change in the home office?

Everyday activities (walking, housework and gardening)

Transport (on foot or by bicycle)

Sports and training (in organised sports, clubs, studios)

Sports and training (independent sport, jogging, gymnastics at home)

How has body weight changed?

Back problems in the home office

Respondents' strategies for health prevention


Home office led to an overall reduction in physical activity for many. With almost 9 million people currently working in a home office in Germany, this is a relevant health factor as rising trends for health risks are very likely. DAK Gesundheit recommended consciously integrating movement components into everyday life, and that this topic is included in discussions at the management level.

SMHS 2021

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