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Apr 12, 201811:59 AMOpen Mic

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Yes, you can be active at work!

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You’re already aware of the importance of physical activity. You are going to get started one of these days, when you have time. The recycled New Year’s resolution has already been discarded and you’re back to being frustrated with yourself, along with being tired and cranky, but really — there’s just no time during the workday to do anything. Some days you don’t even take a break for lunch! Sound familiar?

Well, you don’t need a lot of time, and you don’t need a lot of equipment or a fitness facility. What we all need is to do small amounts of physical activity throughout the day, every day. Consistency leads to significant gains in overall health and fitness over time. But what, when, where, how, and why should you invest a few minutes during your workday to be physically active?

Let’s start with the why

Numerous studies have validated that regular exercise reduces risk of many health conditions, including heart disease, some cancers, Type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, dementia, and many musculoskeletal disorders. People who are physically active on a regular basis experience fewer and less severe symptoms of aging, since they are stronger, more agile, and have lower injury risk.

The mental health benefits of physical activity affect our overall quality of life by increasing energy, concentration, learning ability, and improving mood, all of which contribute to greater productivity and a more positive workplace environment. Having a higher fitness level can even help to protect against some of the health hazards attributed to chronic stress. A 2016 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that people with higher cardiovascular fitness levels had healthier blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and lower cardiometabolic risk factors even when they reported working in high-stress jobs.

Instead of thinking about taking physical activity breaks as lost work time, we need to consider exercise as a regular part of our workdays. Self-care is not indulgent, but rather makes people better employees. According to Ryan Holmes, the CEO of Hootsuite, a social media management platform, “employees return from workouts refreshed and better focused on their jobs. Time lost on exercise is made back and more in terms of improved productivity.”

Another very important reason to take time for activity has to do with self-worth. Knowing the reasons that exercise is important is not enough, or everyone would be active without having to be prompted. We have to believe that our bodies and minds are worthy of our attention and care, and that we have the ability to make lifestyle decisions that lead to actions that improve our quality of life. The analogy of people taking better care of their cars than their bodies is insightful. Being diligent in taking care of other aspects of life does not always translate to better self-care. It’s important to assess priorities and decide how you plan to take care of your most precious possession — your life-long health!

When am I supposed to do all this exercise?

At the very least, try to get up from your chair every 30 minutes and move or stretch for 30 seconds, while taking a few deep breaths. This minimal action helps to get blood circulating, reduces pressure on your back, shoulders, and neck, and helps to maintain a posture that keeps muscles from becoming tight and sore. Deep breathing increases energy, and looking away from your computer screen reduces eyestrain. So, a few small actions can have a major impact on your wellbeing!

In meetings, encourage your colleagues to take a stretch break in the middle. This suggestion is often met with disdain by some, particularly people in leadership roles, who feel uncomfortable getting up to stretch. Some may feel that this is an “unprofessional” thing to do in a corporate environment. However, making stretch breaks a component of a culture that promotes healthy habits can have a strong effect on people’s energy levels and productivity. Leadership support for wellbeing in the workplace is essential, and making activity acceptable is a first step toward adoption of consistently healthy behaviors. Get creative with ways to integrate movement into your day, and encourage your co-workers to join you.

How can I exercise at work without taking a lot of time and working up a sweat?

Instead of saying you’ll “get some exercise,” make it specific and define what you’ll do each day. Being specific can help you accomplish the activity, and help you see your progress along the way.

Taking a short walk and using the stairs are easy ways to gain cardiovascular strength. Climbing up stairs is also a good strength exercise for knees, contrary to conventional perspectives. For example, this method may take a minute or two longer, but can help you use the stairs for exercise:

  • Step onto a step with your entire foot.
  • Press your heel into the step as you almost fully extend your knee before stepping onto the next step with your other foot.
  • Avoid:
    • Leaning forward;
    • Running up the stairs; or
    • Climbing the steps on the ball of your foot while keeping your knees bent.


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