Feeling out of shape? Switching from a spreadsheet to social media doesn’t count as exercise at work. Taking a bathroom break doesn’t count as an aerobic workout, either. The truth is you sit in a car to get to most jobs, where you spend the day tethered to a desk.
That might be good for your financial well-being, but it can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. So, what are your options? Get a gym membership? Dedicate yourself to running a few miles before sunrise or finally join that hot yoga class you’ve heard such things about? Then you’ll be in tip-top shape! Yes, good ideas, but who has the time?
If you want to get fit, you must look at it as a long-term project, with milestones and smaller tasks, and where each small step is taking you closer to that Adonis-like goal. Many people spend most of their waking hours at work, so that would be a good place to start. Think of it as multitasking in the best sense, because a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, and that’s a winning combination.
Why Is Exercise Important?
Is that healthy-mind-and-body thing just a clichéd affirmation? You might as well hang a “Hang in There, Baby!” cat poster on your cubicle wall and be done with it. But clichés stem from truth. Exercise is important, especially so for those of us working sedentary jobs.
But it’s not just for us desk jockeys; all people, regardless of their age, can benefit from exercise. According to the National Institute of Health, the benefits of exercise are many.
- Controls Weight: Exercise, combined with a balanced and healthy diet, helps people keep their weight down and reduces the risk of obesity.
- Reduces Risk of Heart Disease: Exercise is good for the heart and makes it stronger while also improving the circulations of blood in a body, which raises the oxygen levels. This reduces not only the risk of heart disease but high cholesterol, coronary artery disease and heart attack, as well as lowering blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
- Helps Manage Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels: Exercise can lower blood sugar levels, which will help your insulin work better. This reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, as well as helps you manage the disease if you already have it.
- Helps Quit Smoking: Exercise might help ease cravings and therefore make it easier to stop smoking, as well as reduce withdrawal symptoms and limit weight gain post-smoking.
- Improves Mental Health: Exercise releases chemicals that improve mood and help you feel more relaxed, which can help with stress and depression.
- Keeps You Sharp: Exercise also helps thinking, learning and judgement as it stimulates the body to release proteins and other chemicals that improve the structure and function of the brain.
- Reduces Some Cancer Risks: Exercise helps reduces risks of cancers, such as colon, breast, uterine and lung cancers.
- Reduces Risk of Falls: Balance and muscle-building exercises help older people reduce the risk of falling.
- Improves Sleep: Exercise helps you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. (Read more about how to fix your sleep schedule.)
- Improves Sexual Health: Exercise might help with erectile dysfunction in men and increase arousal in women.
- Better Chance of Living Longer: Exercise reduces the risk of dying earlier in life.
Does Exercise Affect Work Productivity?
That’s a great list. Who wouldn’t want to reap those rewards of exercise? But what if my boss sees me walking down the hall with barbells in my hands? Management is more bottom line, and the bottom line is that they want employees to work harder, better and more efficiently.
Well, guess what? Exercise can help with productivity at work, too. A study posted at the US National Library of Medicine shows that our mental prowess is directly linked to our physical regimen. That includes performance at work.
Tell the boss that your exercise routine helps with a myriad of benefits that will make you a more productive worker, from improved concentration, sharper memory and faster learning to prolonged mental stamina, enhanced creativity and lower stress.
Another study by Leeds Metropolitan University found that daytime exercise among people who worked in an office that participated in the experiment, and could get to a gym, use free weights or do yoga, were able to manage their time effectively, work more productively and got along better with coworkers. Better still, they left work feeling satisfied.
Exercises You Can Do at Work
Even if your job doesn’t provide you with a gym membership on premises, there are ways to stay fit in an office. You can start by trying out these five simple work-friendly exercises and see how it goes from there. Chances are you’ll see the difference in short time, and with that enhanced body and mind power, you may come up with a handful of new ideas.
1. Walk for Lunch
There’s a tendency to eat lunch at the desk. We live in a culture that’s terrified of doing nothing. That’s understandable. Life is expensive and for most of us employment is our sole source of income. We can’t appear lazy and risk losing our job.
But all work and no play makes Jack a dull worker. Even batteries need to recharge. Instead of working through your lunch with your mouth full of food falling on your keyboard, while your eyes dry out under the glare of the monitor, get out of the office.
A brisk walk is a great way to get aerobic exercise and clear the head at the same time. You can make your own healthy lunch and eat it in the fresh air, among nature if possible or people watching if not. Have a destination, such as a restaurant or lunch counter, but don’t sit and eat. Keep strolling. Stretch your legs.
Stop to have a bite to eat, of course, but just a bite. You don’t need to stuff yourself into a stupor and get that midday lag. An apple, half a sandwich, some water and a half-hour locomoting around your work neighborhood will refresh you and you’ll get a better sense of the place you’re working at. Maybe you’ll even serendipitously discover something of interest.
2. Exercise Ball
You wish you had the luxury of a leisurely lunch! Okay, we get it. Work can be overwhelming. That doesn’t give you an excuse to slack off. Remember, there’s something called the work-life balance, which means that if you’re not keeping the two equal you’re asking for burnout.
One thing you can do is have an exercise ball at your desk. You know those big rubber things, like the bouncy balls kids love to hop around on, well they’re a great way to tone your stomach and keep you alert.
What you do is substitute that comfy chair for the exercise ball. Because it’s round and unstable, when you sit on it, you’re constantly righting yourself and in so doing increasing your trunk muscle and core strength. All this leads to burning more calories, which is another plus.
It’s not recommended to throw out that old-fashioned desk chair, though. Overusing the exercising ball, like any overindulgence, can have negative impact on your health. You could get lower back pain, and it might just be too uncomfortable long-term. So, use it wisely.
3. Move More
If you work with a computer, and nowadays most of us do, then you’re probably bent over like a question mark at your desk reading this. Sadly, that’s become the posture of modern work. There’s not much you can do about it, but you also don’t have to feel chained to your device.
Make it a point to get up from your desk and move periodically throughout the day. Go to the window, take a walk around the office and visit with your coworkers. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, even if you don’t have anywhere to go. Just standing up and then sitting back down is helpful.
Some of us can’t get away even for a short time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t move. Tap your leg, if you want. It keeps your mind active, helps to combat boredom, even burns calories and reduces stress. Even if you just fidget, it’s helpful to fight off stress. Get a stress ball or reorganize your drawers. Do something to keep active.
4. Standing Desks and Treadmill
You must have seen the standing desk. It was trending like crazy for a time. But not all trends are fluff. This one has some merit. First, it keeps you standing, which burns more calories and keeps you more alert; that’s a benefit to you personally and professionally.
But people are ingenious and can’t leave a good thing alone, so the standing desk was augmented with a slow-moving treadmill. Now, you’re not merely standing at your desk of walking, which helps with circulation and bumps up that calories burn.
All this combines to reduce stress, improve your mood and increase your creativity and productivity; all while promoting a healthy body weight and keeping the risk of some diseases at bay. But like anything, it’s not recommended to go to extremes. Exercise is best when it’s varied and there’s downtime to give your body a chance to rebound. If you overuse the standing desk and treadmill, you’re going to get tired. That’s not going to help with productivity. Not to mention, the financial investment isn’t for everyone.
5. Change Your Commute
This might not be for everyone. Some of us are sentenced to an hour commute in our car, and that’s just one way! Still, even in your car there are things you can do, such as butt clenches, ab pulls, triceps pushes, calf raises, etc.
But most of us have access to public transportation, whether we drive to the train or can walk to the subway. It might seem more convenient to take the car everywhere but walking a few blocks or just being a straphanger is better for your body than sinking into a plush bucket seat.
Public transportation gives you freedom to do other things than staring down a double yellow line. Read a book, sketch your fellow commuters or take time to meditate to lessen the load of your mind. Yes, you could catch up on work and prepare yourself for the day ahead, but that’s not recommended. A pocket of work-free time before immersing yourself in the job usually results in more productivity.
Feeling better already? Good, now it’s time to take your new body and mind and make them even more productive. ProjectManager.com is cloud-based project management software that boosts productivity with effective tools, such as kanban boards for a visual workflow, online Gantt charts for scheduling and collaboration, plus a real-time dashboard that reports fast and accurately. Exercise your right to use better tools by taking this free 30-day trial now.