5 Tips to Stay Healthy While Living in a Van

Living in a van part or full time shouldn’t mean that your health suffers. Here are my top 5 tips, drawn from my expertise as a physiotherapist, to help you keep your body healthy while van- dwelling.

1. Incorporate movement into your daily routine.

Our bodies do not like being stationary for too long. Living in a small space can lead to a lot of sitting. Sometimes fitting in a dedicated workout is too daunting or not possible. That’s okay! Research shows that changing positions, getting up and doing a few reps of an exercise and doing short bouts of exercise is beneficial for physical and mental health. So set a timer and remind yourself to fit in some movement every day.

2. Consider how your body will interact with your space. 

While your body doesn’t like being stationary, some body positions are worse than others. Here are some considerations when building your van or making modifications: 

  • When sitting on any surfaces you should be able to put your feet flat on the ground. I have seen a few builds where people didn’t account for the height of the cushion which meant their feet dangled. You will want to correct this by either changing the seat height or building a footrest. Your body will thank you long term as dangling feet can lead to nerve pain down the legs or lower back pain.

  • If working on a computer, if a horizontal line was drawn from your eyes to your screen it should hit the screen one third of the way down from the top edge. This protects your neck from pain and from causing unnecessary headaches. Your keyboard and mouse should be easily reachable. For laptop users, this means either using an elevated external monitor or an external keyboard and mouse.

  • Any overhead cabinets should be high enough above your head so that you can keep your spine straight while sitting.  

3. Pay attention to your overhead height.

Many van-dwellers have roofs that don’t allow them to stand fully. If your overhead height doesn’t allow you to stand with your spine tall and completely upright, try to spend as little time as possible in this stooped position. For example, try to sit down while cooking if you are cooking inside. If you spend too much time in a stooped position this could lead to neck pain and headaches.

4. Protect your body during ongoing renovations. 

Whether you are in the van build process or doing ongoing upgrades and maintenance, pay attention to how you are using your body. 

  • If lifting something heavy, always activate your core, lift with your legs not your back, and breathe out as you lift (do not hold your breath!) 

  • If carrying or reaching, keep your elbows close to the side of your body to protect your shoulders from injury. 

  • If doing a repetitive task, try to break it up over a few days so that you don’t get a wrist or hand strain.

Your body might tell you right away if a certain movement doesn’t work for you, but often it won’t be until the next day or a few days later. It is much easier to protect your body from injury than it is to recover from an injury. 

5. If you notice an ache, pain or injury address it as soon as possible.

Research heavily supports early involvement of a physiotherapist for injuries, pains and even after surgery. In fact, the sooner you consult a physiotherapist, the shorter your recovery time and the fewer number of physiotherapy sessions you will need. 

An excellent health care option for van-dwellers is Telehealth. Telehealth is the delivery of healthcare, including physiotherapy, over telephone or video call. This means you can consistently access a physiotherapist who knows your health history and understands your specific needs. Being on the road should not mean that you can’t access high-quality healthcare services!

Still have questions? E-mail Krysta: krysta@cairnphysiotherapy.ca

Krysta Norwick (née Wark) is a registered physiotherapist and the owner of Cairn Physiotherapy, a virtual physiotherapy clinic designed to offer services to those who have difficulty accessing or cannot access in-person physiotherapy. She is passionate about providing health education to help empower people to make informed decisions about their health. She is also currently building out a Ford Transit with her husband.  You can follow along her journey on Instagram and YouTube.