Being location independent requires physical, emotional and mental strength. This is particularly true in the current circumstances, with the world facing a new global threat – the Covid-19 pandemic. Here are 5 perspectives on how to stay fit when living a location independent or remote work lifestyle – even when housebound.
This article was written before the Covid-19 pandemic had taken hold. It relates to people who are living a location independent lifestyle which allows them to travel. However the central principles in this article still apply even if you are working from home. Please read the suggestions and adapt to your current situation, taking care not to put yourself in any danger. For example, you might want to only consider running outside if you are in a country where you are allowed to exercise outside, whilst maintaining a safe distance.
Let’s start by saying that being location independent brings much happiness and joy. There is something about taking charge of your life, and living how you chose to, which is enormously empowering and uplifting. It really is good for the soul.
Add to this new experiences, new friendships and connections, and warmer or more beautiful environments… it’s hard to argue that this isn’t good for us, right?
But it’s also true to say that being location independent ‘can’ be exhausting. Speaking from my own personal experience, I’ve found that moving from place to place is, at times, energy sapping. No matter how much I enjoy my travelling, it sometimes knocks the stuffing out of me.
Good healthy habits can slip very easily. Bad habits replace them just as quickly.
Work-related stress creeps in. Illness or injury happens at the most unexpected, inopportune times. If you have a business to maintain when that happens, the stress can suddenly double. Everything falls down to you. So taking care of yourself has to be prioritised.
It’s not really enough to simply set positive goals, either. The location independent experience is totally unique. Good intentions have to be viewed through the prism of this experience. Strategies for maintaining health have to match the reality of the ever changing life you are building for yourself.
1.Own your habits
When you’re location independent, you have enormous freedom. Quite a lot of the time you can do what the hell you like. It is up to you how you live your life. So… you can develop unhealthy habits within that experience – or healthy. It’s totally up to you.
Working on the good habits
I’ve found that the only way to maintain my healthier habits in this context is to remind myself that they are a core part of who I am. E.g. I have always exercised, all of my life. Ergo – it ain’t gonna stop just cos’ I’m a nomad. No sirree.
Studies show that to really commit to positive habits, you have to make them a core part of your identity. What this means is adopting the mindset and actions of someone who would ordinarily behave that way.
Decide on the healthy habits which are important to you and your identity. Make sure they’re realistic. Then tell yourself you are the sort of person who does them, over and over again. Own your healthy habits, so to speak.
So tell yourself:
“I’m the sort of person who exercises every morning.”
Or whatever it is you want to achieve that is good for you. Write it on a post it note and put it on the mirror. Or put it as a reminder on your phone. Do something to remind yourself of your cornerstone habits every day, until they become unshakeable.
Then create systems so that you cannot avoid doing whatever it is you seek to do. For example, place your exercise clothes and trainers near your bed so they are there when you get up in the morning.
These sound like simple, overly naive solutions. Yes they are simple, but they’re still mighty hard to put into practice sometimes.
But the good thing is that after a certain amount of time, a sort of momentum develops. And you actually start to become the person you want to be.
For example, for all my love of exercise, I have another side to my character. It’s a side that loves to socialise, to dance and stay up late at beach bars or festivals. If I’m at a party, I’m often the last one standing and I literally hate going to bed.
This part of my character does not sit well with the side of my character that wants to run on the beach every morning. However, because I’ve exercised so much throughout my life, the gym bunny wins the fight (well, most of the time).
Moving on from the bad habits
I’ve found that the only way to prevent myself from falling into unhealthy habits over the longer term is to be brutally honest with myself. Sometimes locations, circumstances and even the company you keep can facilitate unhealthier habits. Try to recognise what is tripping you up and take action to prevent yourself from allowing bad habits to continue. For example, if you find yourself spending too much time on your phone, consider placing it in another room.
2. Find ways of exercising that are adaptable and foolproof
Everyone knows the benefits of exercise. It calms the mind, boosts your immune system, relaxes and makes you feel amazing. But it can be so hard to commit to exercise when you’re in a tropical environment, with soaring temperatures during the day and no local gym you can access.
I can’t speak for everyone but I’ve found that finding an adaptable and foolproof exercise routine works best for me. So right from the start I made an assumption that I will quite often be in hot places without a gym. I bought a strong resistance band, packed my running trainers, yoga pants and exercise top.
An exercise routine for a remote work lifestyle
Now I try and do one of the following, every day before breakfast:
a) Go for a 3 – 5km run – typically very early in the morning, before it gets too hot. I’ve tried running on roads but quite often the traffic can be dangerous or the local dogs can be aggressive.
b) Do a series of bodyweight and resistance band exercises in my room which consist of the following: 40 press ups, 60 sit ups, 60 different resistance band exercises which work my glutes and quads, 30 chest stretches with the resistance band, 40 shoulder lifts with the resistance band, 48 tricep dips using a chair.
c) Do a yoga workout on YouTube.
If I come across a gym I will often combine a 3km run on the treadmill with the bodyweight exercises, or the yoga. If I come across a yoga class, I’ll go once or twice a week.
Of course there’s a risk of plateauing with this sort of approach but frankly, I’m not bothered about that. I’m not here to gain muscle or lose huge amounts of weight. I just want to feel good and be well.
I love hiking and walking too. But I’ve found that a lot of the time during this trip around SE Asia, I’m on a scooter which means that I’m walking less than I’d like to. Plus walking 10,000 steps a day can take up 2 hours of time, and there are many days when I don’t have that time.
My routine is foolproof, I can do it anywhere and with very little time to spare. I have other friends who take other approaches. One couple I know do only yoga and walking, for example. They travel with a yoga belt and hang upside down for ten minutes per day, combining a floor-based yoga routine with an upside down meditation.
3. Adopt a preferred approach to eating which works for you
Every place you will visit will have a different food culture. As an example, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, most people eat out in street food markets or local street restaurants. The food is very tasty, but it’s often cooked at high temperature in palm oils, which are not particularly good for you. There is also a risk of picking up a bug from food stalls, although that’s never happened to me.
There are lots of markets selling fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, which should make food preparation easy. However, quite a lot of the condominium style mid-term accommodation does not have a proper kitchen. There’s usually a mini kitchen with a microwave, and if you’re lucky, you get a counter top stove.
There are also very few large supermarkets selling healthy food. Instead there are countless 7/11s selling pre-packaged junk food which the shop assistants heat up for customers in a microwave.
All of this means that it can be very easy to slip into poor eating habits. I found myself on more than one occasion in Chiang Mai sitting all day in my apartment, working really hard. I would skip eating and then run out to a street market or the 7/11 to buy a microwave meal to heat up. Not good!
My preferred way of eating
I’ve realised that I really do need access to a kitchen with a fridge and a stove top if I’m staying in any place for a period of time. (Which I usually am. I normally stay in one country for at least 2 months). This allows me to make my own brunch using my own ingredients, which work well for my body. These include gluten free brown bread, fruits, gluten free flour (for pancakes), oatmeal, seeds and nuts, eggs, and coffee etc.
I prefer to make this meal myself and also, to eat it very late in the morning – usually after 11am. If I eat my last evening meal at 8pm or 9pm, and then resume eating after 11am, that’s a 14 to 15 hour window in which I naturally fast. I’ve found that I’m much more effective in the mornings as result of this, plus this way of eating means that I don’t generally put large amounts of weight on whilst travelling.
I also really watch my sugar intake. For example, I tend not to eat sugary items and alcohol in the same day. I opt for one or the other, since both have a large amount of sugar. This includes watching out for hidden sugar content in juices, smoothies and iced coffees. (I once ordered a fresh juice In Colombia and watched the waiter put two whole dessert spoons of sugar into the glass. Ever since then I make sure I’m super clear – no sugar!).
4. Meditate or do your own thing to take time out
I really have no desire to be a meditation guru, but if there’s one thing that has really helped me over the last year, it is this. I started mindfulness meditation in summer 2019 using a daily app (Calm), following some advice from a coach. It’s been the single best thing I’ve done to support my mental and emotional wellbeing. Now I try to meditate most days.
When people say “oh I can’t meditate, my mind is impossible to control”, I completely sympathise with them. I was ALWAYS the person who said that. And guess what? My mind is STILL impossible to control. I can’t seem to focus for longer than about 10 or 15 seconds without it wandering off. Nothing has changed in that regard.
But here’s the point. The brain is designed to think! That is the purpose of it… to make plans, ideas, stories… Expecting the brain to stop thinking is like expecting the heart to stop beating.
The most effective part of mindfulness meditation happens when you bring your thoughts back, repeatedly, to the thing you are focusing on. Whether that’s a mantra or your breathing, it is in the act of repeatedly bringing your thoughts back to your point of focus that the good work happens.
At first it feels very unfulfilling, like nothing is happening. But then over time you gradually realise that you’re gaining a greater ability to distance yourself from your thoughts more generally. This stops you over attaching to negative emotions and over reacting to situations. You realise that everything passes, and that everything is impermanent. And this is super helpful when you’re a nomad.
Of course there are different types of meditation. I can’t speak about them all. Mindfulness is the one that has helped me. Other people prefer to go walking in nature. Do whatever works best for you.
5.Develop your inner survival mentality
Being a nomad involves living without your normal support networks and close friends. You have to be your own best friend. It sounds a bit cheesy, but after a period of living this way, I’ve developed a finely-tuned ability to listen to an inner voice within me, that protects me. I guess you could call it a survival mentality.
The way I like to think about it is this…. Imagine there is a really calm version of yourself who wants to look after your safety. Not a neurotic person, who panics unnecessarily. Just a very balanced, pragmatic person. Someone who can quickly assess risk, and step in and commandeer your conscious mind if you find yourself in a situation where you’re in potential danger.
A part of yourself that will intervene if you’ve drunk too much and you have to decide whether to catch a tuktuk home, or get on your scooter. A part of yourself that will step in if you’re working 12 hour days without seeing anyone else, for 3 or 4 days straight. A part of yourself that reminds yourself to wear mosquito repellent, day and night, in areas where Dengue is present. A part of yourself that would have the resources to seek online mental health counselling if you were feeling down or depressed.
Being ill is not fun. Having an accident is not fun. Having an ability to listen to your own needs, make quick judgements based on risk and take action when the time is needed is absolutely required. If you’re not able to think in this way, you should really question whether the lifestyle is right for you.
What are your tips for how to stay fit when living a remote work lifestyle?
I love hearing how other people approach this topic. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
You might also be interested in the following content on GenerationXit.com:
- My blog post on Overcoming Fear as a Digital Nomad
- The podcast on Digital Nomads and Mental Health – How to Stay Well