Today more than ever, people around the globe live sedentary lifestyles — and our lazy habits are aided by hundreds of websites and TV shows and games that stimulate the mind while our bodies stay at rest.
Although exercise is one of our most basic human needs, too often, we move the least amount possible. How many times has the extent of your daily movement consisted mainly of going from the couch to the car, and then from the car to the office?
We hear you: “My workday is already overwhelmingly busy, so do I really need to squeeze in one more task?”
Now more than ever, the answer is yes, Gen Xers. That’s because exercise does much more than simply burn a few calories — it also raises the metabolism, strengthens bones, builds muscle mass, and can even help prevent asthma and allergies.
Why it’s so important to get a workout, even at work
Being active during the day becomes especially important when you consider much of the workday is spent sitting. And given modern conveniences, when we get home, there’s little we have to do.
With homes filled with remote controls, garage door openers, smartphones, game consoles and so much more — even those who do exercise are more sedentary than they realize.
We also need to understand that sitting for long periods of time is not good for our bodies or our minds.
Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome — several conditions that include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and excess body fat around the waist. Your brain function also slows when your body is sedentary for too long.
“We all know what’s needed — a minimum of 30 minutes per day, which can even be broken into 10-minute intervals, or 10,000 steps a day,” says Diane Scherschel, wellness program manager at the University of Wisconsin Center for Health.
“The bottom line is you just need to move, and anything is better than nothing. You’ll get benefits from anything you do,” she says.
How to get active and stay active
When time is tight at both work and home, take advantage of breaks built into your workday to fit in a little movement. Here are a few ways you can do just that.
To help get active and stay active, Scherschel recommends three basic steps.
Step 1: Discover your why
It is important to understand, “What do I want my health for? How will regular exercise improve my health?
When you have a clear understanding of your personal reasons for why you want to exercise, it can help motivate and prepare your for overcoming the barriers that you will inevitably encounter.
Step 2: Figure out what gets in your way
Think about your typical workday and figure out what could possibly get in your way. Meetings, having too much work to get done, feeling pressure to stay at your desk, or even just getting caught up in your work — figure out what gets in your way, and then problem-solve.
“Brainstorm about your barriers and how to get around them,” Scherschel says. “These thoughts will actually help you overcome any barriers when they arise.”
One example she offers is to schedule a regularly occurring appointment on your calendar for exercise. Then it’s less likely it will get bumped by other activities, and you can be sure to schedule meetings around that time.
Step 3: Make a plan
Adding physical activity to your life is a lot like starting any other work project – you’re not necessarily going to just jump in. You’ll develop a plan – what are you trying to accomplish, why (or what’s your motivation), what are possible barriers – and then get started.
Remember that you will not always be perfect. There will be days when your plan doesn’t work. In this situation, acknowledge it, learn from it, and schedule in your next session.
Dr Sanjay Jain, author of Optimal Living 360: Smart Decision Making for a Balanced Life describes his 5 favorite fitness formulas for the workplace.
5 easy ways to do a workout at work
1) Chair dips – 10 reps: With your legs out in front of you, grab the edge of a chair (or desk) and lift yourself down and back up.
2) Walking – 10 minutes: Lap your block or one floor of your office building. Try for a pace of 100 steps per minute (which is easy if you don’t stop to chat or play with knickknacks on other people’s desks).
3) Hamstring curl – 20 reps: Bend arms at the elbow. Bring one foot up toward your rear end while straightening your arms so that your hands are down when your foot is up.
4) Knee lifts – 20 reps: Just like hamstring curls, except you lift your knee up in front as your arms go down.
5) Desk pushup – 10 reps: Place hands on edge of your desk, shoulder-width apart, and your legs out behind you. Push off with as much force as you can.
“At your work desk, you can flex your muscles and do stretching on regular intervals as needed,” says Dr Jain. “The simple act of choosing the stairs over the elevator in your building can add up to positive momentum.”
And don’t stop there — keep looking for opportunities to fit in bits and pieces of exercise throughout your day. As Dr Jain says, “You can find a way to move your body at just about any time.”
Consider a “walking workstation”
Walking workstations — basically treadmills with a small desktop so you can get some movement in while you work — can improve not just your physical health, but your mental health, too.
Published research by Michael Sliter, PhD, formerly the assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, asked 180 participants about their levels of boredom, task satisfaction, stress, arousal, and performance while completing work-related computer tasks across four randomly assigned workstations: the usual seated arrangement, standing, cycling, and walking.
The researchers discovered that the walking workstation participants had higher satisfaction and arousal, while also experiencing less boredom and stress than the standing and sitting workstation participants. In comparison, the cycling workstation gave users reduced satisfaction and performance.
“We found that the walking workstations, regardless of a person’s exercise habits or body mass index (BMI), had significant benefits,” Sliter said. “Even if you don’t exercise or if you are overweight, you’ll experience both short-term physical and psychological benefits.”
In a move that showed he seriously practiced what he preached, he wrote the entire research paper while using a walking workstation.
With growing concerns regarding obesity in the United States, Sliter hopes the study encourages employers to examine methods to assist workers in healthy living.
11 more tips and tricks to get a little fitness on the job
1. Take the stairs
2. Sign up for noon yoga or another exercise class during your lunch break
3. Take the farthest parking spot
4. Walk or bike to work
5. Do some desk exercises
6. Walk the halls of your office building — why not deliver that memo or paperwork in person?
8. Pick a bathroom that’s a few floors away
9. Make reasons to get up from your desk — set an alarm on your computer to remind yourself to stand up occasionally
10. Find some co-workers to exercise with
11. When you’re leaving work, and it’s a beautiful day, take a few minutes to go for a walk and enjoy the outdoors
You don’t get old from doing too much
Finally, a few words of wisdom from early fitness guru Jack LaLane, who lived to be 96 years old. “You do not get old from doing too much,” he said. “You get old from doing too little.”