The OPEN Health PR wellbeing experiment – trialling the substitute commute

Written by Richard Buchanan-Brown on Thursday 14th January 2021

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”

Søren Kierkegaard

When my daughter was about a week old we noticed something striking about her behaviour. She was moody, irritable and difficult to get off to sleep if we made one change to her routine. On a couple of days it was wet and windy and so we stayed in the house. All day. We didn’t get her outside at all, and even though she was only a few days old she seemed to notice – and she didn’t like it!

Since then I have been aware of the importance of getting out in the fresh air. Getting out of the house never used to be an issue, of course. These days however, like many others, I have been working from home since March. This has led me to review my habits and consider how I can maintain a healthy balance between work and life.

Another lesson I learnt from my baby daughter was the importance of routine. It was clear in March that old routines were out of the window, and it was going to be important to establish some new ones. Some that involved getting out of the house!

I started to ‘bookend’ the day. I substituted my commute for a walk or run at the beginning and end of the working day. It seemed to make sense to have some boundaries around what was work time and what was not. I also realised very early on that it would be very easy to slip into a routine of starting work without getting dressed, something that might seem very appealing to others but would not be a healthy routine for me.

Speaking to colleagues it appeared that a lot of us had similar ideas. People were trying to get out of the house before and after work, and now of course many people have been sharing their experiences of the benefits of this ‘fake’ or ‘substitute’ commute. For me, it has been central to making a positive of the situation we find ourselves in. It is taking newly created time, the time no longer spent on a train or dodging central London traffic on a bicycle, and using it to benefit physical and mental health. It has helped me to maintain a balance in my life and I can now easily run a half marathon which I wouldn’t even have dreamed of doing at the start of the year.

Read any psychology self-help book and you will find a lot of advice around setting healthy routines and the importance of small details in promoting better mood. Google undertook research into work-life balance and found that people who are able to segment work from the rest of their life were happier than those who did not, and I feel like this is part of the same concept. Routine can act as a segmentation tool, and taking a physical action, such as going for a walk, can help to provide the cue our minds need that it is time to move into a different part of the day.

In order to test this idea, the OPEN Health PR team have committed to taking the substitute commute to our hearts during the month of January. We are also each choosing an activity to perform before and after the working day to see if it makes a meaningful difference to our wellbeing. Even more important now we can only leave the house for exercise once a day – we need to make sure we do it!

We will provide updates through the month and would love to hear about other people’s experiences of trying this in the spirit of helping each other through the long winter months. Watch this space!

Get in touch

if your fake commute, morning walk, afternoon meander leads you to think about how PR can help your health communications challenges - please get in touch....
Richard Buchanan-Brown, Director,