Does Working from Home Improve Your Health?

We surveyed 849 people to find out if the increased popularity of working from home is affecting their physical and mental health.

by
Last updated: Jan 2nd, 2023

Jump to

Key takeaways
The costs and benefits of working from home: an overview
How does working from home affect your time?
What are the general health benefits of remote work?
How does working from home affect your mental health?
Methodology
Fair use statement
Sources
Does working from home improve health

As of April 2022, 7.7% of employed individuals in the U.S. are working remotely, marking a significant decrease from the pandemic-high of 35% reported in May 2020. Excluding those who were working from home prior to the pandemic, it appears that job type is the most significant factor determining who is and isn’t working from home. Today, white-collar workers and college-educated people are the ones most likely to remain out of the office.

But is this a good thing? More than half (56%) of remote-working women in the U.K. stated in a survey run by the BBC that leaving the office has helped them progress in their careers, as responsibilities that typically fall to women, such as childcare, were less of a hindrance. However, a number of mental health concerns have also emerged; eight out of ten remote workers in the U.K. felt the shift to working full time from home has had a negative impact on their mental health.

What specific aspects of one’s health are being affected? If 80% of workers feel mental health consequences of not going to the office, why are so many people still working from home? A clear picture of the costs and benefits of remote work has yet to fully develop. But for now, we asked 849 at-home workers their opinions to investigate the pros and cons.

Key takeaways

  • The majority of our survey participants reported that working from home gave them more time to spend with friends (71.9%) and family (84.6%).
  • On a scale of one (unhealthy) to ten (very healthy), the average level of overall health our participants reported was 8.2 out of 10.
  • Most fully remote workers (88.6%) and hybrid workers (82.2%) reported having more free time on weekends.
  • 32.6% of the remote workers we surveyed claimed they’d quit immediately if asked to return to in-person work.
  • The majority of Gen Z (83.1%), millennials (78.2%), Gen X (80.5%), and baby boomers (78.3%) all reported feeling less stress working from home.

The costs and benefits of working from home: an overview

To find out whether or not working from home actually has an impact on our health, we surveyed 849 people who had transitioned from in-person work to hybrid or full-time remote work within the past two years. Right away, we discovered that most were happy to stay home: 55.6% of respondents claimed that if they were asked to go back into the office, they would start looking elsewhere for another fully remote position; 32.6% said they would quit their jobs immediately.

Weighing the options

More than being able to run errands during breaks, convenience, not having a commute, or increased productivity, the relative majority of respondents (38.3%) stated that the aspect of working from home they enjoyed most was having more free time for friends, family, pets, and exercise. This trend remained fairly consistent across the generations:

  • Gen Z (41.0%)
  • Millennials (37.4%)
  • Gen X (35.1%)
  • Baby boomers (45.7%)

The next two most-desirable aspects of remote work — for Gen Z (19.9% and 18.7%), Millennials (21.0% and 20.7%), and Gen X (19.5% and 23%) — were the convenience of working from home and not having to commute. Baby boomers also expressed an appreciation for not having a commute (19.6%), but they reported the ability to run errands during breaks (15.2%) as being more important to them than the simple convenience of getting to work from home.

Overall health

We asked our survey participants, on a scale of one to ten (with one being unhealthy and ten being very healthy), how they would rate their overall health right now. 77.8% reported their health is at an eight or higher. Given the number of traditional work-related factors that can diminish one’s mental and physical well-being, this is an understandable result.

Simply enduring a long daily commute can have a negative impact on your health. When you experience less physical activity, your cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) goes down, which can lead to an increase in body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and blood pressure. Your chances of having a heart attack also increase in relation to the length of your work day.

Given how common these two aspects of traditional in-person work are — long days, bookended by a long commute — it’s unsurprising that the average level of overall health reported by the 849 at-home workers we surveyed was so high.

How does working from home affect your time?

work from home graphic 1

Simply by eliminating the daily commute, U.S. workers have collectively saved themselves around 89 million hours each week. We asked our participants how they’re using their newly recovered time.

Exercise

By being committed and intentional, the time-saving aspects of remote work can permeate through some of the most important aspects of our daily lives, including physical fitness. More than half (53.5%) of respondents said that transitioning to fully remote or hybrid work increased the number of times they made it to the gym per week (with most going once or twice a week — or just on weekends — before and going three or more times after). 15.2% of participants claimed they were now making it to the gym at least five to seven times per week compared to only making it one or two times per week (or just on weekends) before.

Hybrid workers, specifically, also reported having more time for exercise. On average, they found they were going to the gym or exercising an average of 4.2 times per week when they were working more from home, compared to just 3.7 times per week when they were spending more time at the office. This may be because hybrid workers are still in the practice of getting up and regularly interacting with the real world, which allows them the headspace to use those few extra hours more efficiently.

Weekends and chores

The majority of fully remote workers (88.6%) and hybrid workers (82.2%) reported having more free time on their weekends once they’d moved away from their full-time in-person jobs. A significant percentage of fully remote workers (83.5%) and hybrid workers (87.3%) also reported that, by utilizing their breaks, they were able to get more chores done around the house.

Flexibility

Having a bit of extra time every day — to take a nap, work out, do chores, or maybe play with their children — provides many remote workers with a sense of autonomy. Empowered employees who have the flexibility to step away from their desks as needed tend to start work more punctually, take fewer lunch breaks, experience higher levels of concentration, and are more satisfied with their work overall. Compared to someone who works five days a week in an office, they are even less likely to quit their jobs.

Despite all of these positive findings, it’s just as common to see that this wealth of time saved is wasted on menial work-related tasks and useless distractions. If you’re finding that you spend more time thinking about the latest project while you’re trying to wind down for the night, here are some ways you can try to reclaim this newly acquired time:

  1. Actively switch gears. Instead of letting your work hours and off hours blend together, find a ritual or activity that marks the definitive start and end to your work day.
  2. Use your extra hours (or minutes) wisely. Don’t waste them on “passive leisure” activities like watching TV or scrolling social media; use them instead for “active leisure” activities like gardening or socializing.
  3. Narrow your focus. Identify the crucial task (or tasks) that must be completed that day, then give your full attention to it until it’s done.
  4. Have designated productivity blocks. Set aside time for focused, uninterrupted work — no emails, no snacking, no meetings, just work.
  5. Socialize intentionally. Don’t leave this highly important aspect of your well-being to chance. Schedule short phone calls, walks, or visits with friends or family.

What are the general health benefits of remote work?

work from home graphic 2

The pool of remote workers we surveyed claimed to be, on average, in tip-top shape. Out of 849 respondents, the average level of overall health reported was 8.2 out of 10, leading us to believe that at-home workers must be doing a number of very healthy things. Arguably, the two most significant contributors to overall health are a healthy diet and sustained physical activity — what we regularly put in and do with our bodies.

Diet

Most of our remote workers (86%) reported they ate healthier overall when working from home. Nearly half of them (49.7%) claimed to cook their own lunches. According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, people who prepare most of their meals at home tend to eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who do not. Even if they’re not trying to lose weight, people who often cook at home typically consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar, and less fat than those who cook very little or not at all. And, interestingly, individuals who don’t work primarily at home tend to cook much less than those who do. The time to make a fresh meal during your workday is as important to your overall health as healthy eating in general.

Productivity

In addition to eating healthier, the majority of study participants across all generations — Gen Z (81.9%), millennials (79.0%), Gen X (77.0%), and baby boomers (76.1%) — reported feeling more productive when they were allowed to work remotely. This could be due, in part, to the time at-home workers save getting ready (or rather, not getting ready) in the morning. Compared to those who are heading into an office every day, Business Insider reported that individuals who work from home spend one-third less time on personal grooming. By not shaving or putting on makeup, or perhaps by skipping their morning shower, at-home workers appear to be saving precious minutes each morning.

We also wanted to know, though, what sort of purposeful activities they’re typically engaging in during their lunch breaks. Survey participants were asked to pick what they regularly participate in from a list of various common activities. Unsurprisingly, the most common answers they chose were cooking (49.7%) and eating (70%) their lunch. But we also discovered a lot of respondents were using their coveted at-home lunch breaks to continue working (41.7%). Others liked to do productive tasks, such as chores (32.3%) or running errands (23.4%); and plenty more said they preferred to unwind by taking a nap (25.3%), exercising (20.4%), watching a show (39.7%), or playing with their children (26.8%) or pets (28.9%).

Physical fitness

Healthy adults should participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day, such as brisk walking, biking, or swimming. But even if you’re getting the recommended amount of daily physical activity, the Mayo Clinic suggests that sitting too much throughout the day can increase your risk of metabolic health and longevity problems. Whether at home or in the office, reducing the amount of time you spend sitting at your desk is important.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) makes a similar recommendation: adults should be getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week (about 30 minutes a day, five days a week) and two days of strength training (weight training, bodyweight exercises, or resistance training).

In our study, we found that the number of people going to the gym at least five times per week increased by nearly 10% (from 16.7% to 26.4%) when they moved to full-time remote work, suggesting that working from home might allow people to sustain a more optimal physical fitness routine.

How does working from home affect your mental health?

work from home graphic 3

According to a study published by Nuffield Health (the U.K.’s largest healthcare charity) in June 2020, 36% of the home workers they surveyed claimed that they felt increased pressure to respond immediately to messages or emails because they weren’t in the physical presence of their colleagues. This resulted in increased levels of stress and anxiety across the board. For 25% of respondents, feelings of loneliness and isolation made it difficult to work from home; and 19% said they felt undue pressure to look sufficiently presentable for an increasing number of video meetings.

More than two years later, it’s hard to say definitively whether people are happier and healthier working from home. But our survey certainly produced a compelling series of data points.

Stress and anxiety

The majority of at-home workers we surveyed (79.6%) said they felt, in general, less stressed working from home than they did going into the office every day. This trend remained consistent across the generations:

  • Gen Z (83.1%)
  • Millennials (78.2%)
  • Gen X (80.5%)
  • Baby boomers (78.3%)

Similarly, the majority of participants (74.2%) across all generations stated that they felt, in general, less anxious working from home:

  • Gen Z (75.3%)
  • Millennials (74.9%)
  • Gen X (71.8%)
  • Baby boomers (71.7%)

Sleep

A significant percentage of our respondents (75.1%) also claimed to be getting more sleep working from home, a finding we again found to be consistent across all generations:

  • Gen Z (83.1%)
  • Millennials (74.1%)
  • Gen X (73.6%)
  • Baby boomers (63%)

That being said, 21.7% of our respondents reported they were getting less sleep after making the shift to fully or hybrid remote work. An unfortunate side effect of working from home is that a number of remote workers have set up shop in their beds, essentially blurring the line between their place of work and place of rest. This certainly affects your sleep, but it can trigger significant physical and mental health problems, too. As the line between work and rest disappears, your brain and body stop associating your bed or bedroom primarily with sleep, creating prolonged disruptions to your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle — commonly resulting in bouts of insomnia. When you remain hunched over or sprawled out for extended periods of time on a soft surface like your bed, it puts undue strain on your neck, back, and hips, and can lead to stiffness in your back, arthritis, or lingering pain in the bones, ligaments, and muscles of your neck.

Friends and family

When asked if working from home provided more time to spend with family, the vast majority of those surveyed (84.6%) reported being kind of or absolutely able to do so. The younger generations — Gen Z (87.3%), millennials (82.7%), and Gen X (85.1%) — were all clearly in agreement, but it was the baby boomers (91.3%) who claimed to be getting the most quality time with their kin.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, not one baby boomer gave a negative answer to this question; every single member of that generation stated that working from home allowed them to spend the same amount of time or more with their families.

A smaller majority of respondents (71.9%), however, stated that working remotely gave them more time to spend with their friends. The individual generations, too, were not as aligned when it came to spending their free time with friends. Compared to Gen Z (80.1%) and millennials (73.2%), the older generations — Gen X (62.1%) and baby boomers (65.2%) — didn’t believe that working from home did not offer more time for friendly companionship.

This could simply all be a matter of priorities. Baby boomers are at an age where they might not only be caring for their aging parents, but also trying to maintain relationships with their adult children and, commonly, their grandchildren. Therefore, it’s understandable that they would give the intergenerational ties of family priority over peer-to-peer friendships.

Personal preference

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 61% of remote workers (of 5,889 participants) were choosing not to go back to the office, while 38% were working from home because their workplace was closed or unavailable to them. When asked back in the fall of 2020, however, they found just the opposite: 64% stated they were working from home because their offices were closed, while only 36% said they were choosing to work from home. Their reasons for doing so have also appeared to change in the past two years. Fewer cited concerns surrounding COVID-19 as a major factor influencing their desire to work from home (42% in 2022 vs. 57% in 2020), many claiming they simply preferred to work from home (76% in 2022 vs. 60% in 2020).

As we found in our study, if they were asked to go back into the office, more than half of at-home workers (55.6%) would start looking for new remote jobs and nearly a third (32.6%) would quit immediately. It’s certainly possible, therefore, that people just don’t have the desire to return to the traditional in-office grind.

Methodology

We surveyed 849 people who transitioned from in-person work to hybrid or fully remote work within the past two years to see what effects (if any) working from home had on their mental and physical health. Besides just being convenient, we wanted to know if remote work came with any actual health benefits. What specific aspects of one’s health are being affected? Why such a strong attachment to working from home? Among a range of other questions, we asked participants how they would rate their overall health on a scale from one to ten and how willing they’d be to go back to in-person work.

Fair use statement

Innerbody Research is committed to providing objective, science-based suggestions, and research to help our readers make more informed decisions regarding health and wellness. We invested the time and effort into creating this report to determine whether or not working from home has health benefits, especially now that we live in an era where remote work is becoming more common and encouraged. We hope to reach as many people as possible by making this information widely available. As such, please feel free to share our content for educational, editorial, or discussion purposes. We only ask that you link back to this page and credit the author as Innerbody.com.

Sources

Murphy, J. (2022, May 12). Data shows workers driven remote by the pandemic now number fewer than 1 in 10. NBCNews.com. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from https://www.nbcnews.com/data-graphics/data-remote-workers-declining-may-2022-rcna28499

Mahy, E. (2021, September 28). Working from home boosts career progress, say half of women. BBC News. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/news/business-58708958

Bishop, K. (2022, June 17). Is remote work worse for wellbeing than people think? BBC Worklife. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20220616-is-remote-work-worse-for-wellbeing-than-people-think

Hoehner, C. M., Barlow, C. E., Allen, P., & Schootman, M. (2012, June 1). Commuting distance, cardiorespiratory fitness, and Metabolic Risk. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797%2812%2900167-5/fulltext

Comstock, C. (2010, May 11). Uh-oh: Chance of having a heart attack spikes after working more than 10 hours per day. Business Insider. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from https://www.businessinsider.com/chances-of-having-a-heart-attack-spikes-after-working-more-than-10-hours-per-day-2010-5?r=US&IR=T#ixzz0neVzMCa9

How to (actually) save time when you're working remotely. Harvard Business Review. (2021, August 27). Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://hbr.org/2020/08/how-to-actually-save-time-when-youre-working-remotely

Nuwer, R. (2016, September 1). Why you should work from home. Scientific American. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-you-should-work-from-home/

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2018, November 7). Mayo Clinic Minute: Which is better for losing weight - diet or exercise? - mayo clinic news network. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-minute-which-is-better-for-losing-weight-diet-or-exercise/

Study suggests home cooking is a main ingredient in healthier diet. Center for a Livable Future. (2014, November 17). Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://clf.jhsph.edu/about-us/news/news-2014/study-suggests-home-cooking-main-ingredient-healthier-diet

Reuter, D. (2022, January 28). Workers spend one third less time on personal grooming when they clock in from home compared with when they commute to the Office. Business Insider. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://www.businessinsider.com/remote-workers-spend-one-third-less-time-on-personal-grooming-2022-1?r=US&IR=T#:~:text=Working%20remotely%20saves%20employees%20an,working%20on%20their%20primary%20jobs.

Laskowski, E. (2021, September 22). How much exercise do you really need? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20057916#:~:text=As%20a%20general%20goal%2C%20aim,your%20risk%20of%20metabolic%20problems.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, June 2). How much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm

Working from home taking its toll on the mental health & relationships of the nation. Nuffield Health. (n.d.). Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://www.nuffieldhealth.com/article/working-from-home-taking-its-toll-on-the-mental-health-relationships-of-the-nation#about

Lufkin, B. (2021, February 18). What happens when you work from bed for a year. BBC Worklife. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210217-is-it-bad-to-you-work-from-your-bed-for-a-year

Fingerman, K. L., Pillemer, K. A., Silverstein, M., & Suitor, J. J. (2012, April). The baby boomers' intergenerational relationships. The Gerontologist. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3304890/

Parker, K., Horowitz, J. M., & Minkin, R. (2022, March 23). Covid-19 pandemic continues to reshape work in America. Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2022/02/16/covid-19-pandemic-continues-to-reshape-work-in-america/