For those of us who spend long days at our workstations, sitting nearly motionless under fluorescent lights, fitness can seem like a pipe dream. How do you squeeze substantial physical activity into a job that squeezes most of the air out of your day?
Katie Hamlin, a senior account executive at public relations firm Edelman, puts her finger on it: “It’s hard to stay in shape when you work 9 to 5, especially when no one really gets out of work at 5.”
But even for cynics who believe at-the-office exercise is nothing more than a comedic routine involving finger calisthenics and laps around the conference table, there is hope. You can find times and ways to exercise at work, as long as you’re willing to think creatively about your situation, occasionally push the envelope of workplace decorum and perhaps even chuckle at yourself.
Start with Modest Changes to Your Routine
You may have heard the standard advice for workers looking to fit some fitness into their days: Park your car at the farthest corner of the lot. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Use the phone and email less, and walk to talk with your coworkers instead.
If you are among the most sedentary of the sedentary, these measures will begin to get your blood moving, but they’re really just a start. “Nothing can replace solid, intense workouts,” says Salvatore Fichera, an exercise physiologist. “But being as active as possible all through the workday does make a difference over time.”
Fichera recommends brisk exercise breaks of about 10 minutes. That should be enough time to give yourself a significant interval of cardiovascular exercise without taking up more time than a typical coffee break.
Fit in a Couple of 10-Minute Workouts
“If you take a break and climb the stairs for 10 minutes, you’ll burn 150 calories, assuming you weigh 150 pounds,” says Tammy Lakatos, a trainer and registered dietitian. Within that timeframe, you should be able to rev your metabolism without getting too sweaty, she says.
Will a 10-minute workout attract the wrong kind of attention from coworkers and bosses? If it does, you can try explaining why you’re doing it, or just keep at it and ignore negative reactions, which will likely fade with time.
Trainer Susie Shina recommends these intense exercises designed specifically for the white-collar environment: Wall presses (like push-ups, only against a wall), stand-ups (squats into your desk chair), march in place (try not to notice who’s staring) and knee-ups (in your chair, bring your knees up).
Sit for Fitness
Here’s another idea mentioned by more than one fitness expert: Replace your desk chair with a big exercise ball. “When I was a software developer, I brought one of those balance balls to my office and stopped using my desk chair,” says Jeff Wooten, president of The Body Mechanic. “It almost forced me to exercise while I worked.”
Being the first in his office to go chairless earned Wooten quite a few looks and comments. But Wooten and his exercise ball became trendsetters -- and saved money for his employer, which was accustomed to shelling out hundreds of dollars for ergonomic chairs. Balance balls sell for as little as $20.
Leave the Office to Work Out
Still, we’ve got to admit that doing push-ups against a wall -- let alone a cubicle partition -- may be just too much. “Some of these activities could be difficult in some work environments,” says Scott Lucett, director of education at the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
The solution may be to take one longer, off-site exercise break. Does your company claim to give its employees a substantial lunchtime, like half or three-quarters of an hour, or even 60 minutes? Then test that claim, even if none of your coworkers do. When Hamlin was training for the New York City Marathon, she would sometimes take off for lunch, go to the gym a block from work, run three miles, shower and be back at her desk within an hour.
Finally, remember that when it comes to exercise, you have more at stake than a desire for a slimmer waistline or less generous hips. “Having a sedentary lifestyle increases your risk for coronary heart disease,” says Dr. Aliya Browne, clinical director of the Hainesport Women’s Heart Center.
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