Can Office Work and Physical Activity Coexist?

We all know that exercise is good for us and being inactive is bad. Common sense, right? But, did you also know that a sedentary lifestyle, even if you ARE getting the recommended amounts of physical activity is a risk factor for heart disease as well? I mentioned this as being problematic for most of us when the new ACSM Exercise Guidelines were released over the summer. So what are we to do? Most of us have to drive a car to work and sit behind a desk for several hours a day. The answer that some people have turned to is working physical activity in to their work day. While it is a great idea to get up and move around, lift some light weights, etc at random intervals throughout the day, is it really feasible? For me, it certainly is. My department is full of nutrition and exercise enthusiasts/professionals. There is a pull-up bar over my office door and a Swiss ball rolling around. I am lucky enough to be in an environment where “heading out for a walk” is no big deal. The onus to get up and move around is entirely on me.

For others, getting up and walking around or performing exercises may just not be part of the culture in the work setting, thus deterring folks from doing so. To change this I suggest approaching your boss/manager about instituting physical activity breaks in to the workday. Every 2 hours or so everyone could be encouraged to get up, walk, stretch, perform some light activity.

In the fall, I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Dr. Melicia Whitt-Glover who discussed the benefits of Instant Recess and how it can be incorporated in to multiple settings. What is “Instant Recess“? It is a group physical activity effort developed by Dr. Toni Yancey that aims to “Build a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time”. Designed for use in schools, offices, and community settings, Instant Recess is a great way to get people up and moving in a socially acceptable way!

More information can be found on the Instant Recess Facebook page, videos you can follow along with can be found on Youtube, and you can also follow them on Twitter as well!

If the nature of your work does not allow a group physical activity breaks, then I recommend creating an informal Office Fitness Challenge. This way, you and your coworkers can fit activity in to your own schedule, yet still track it and support each other in the office. The challenge can be of any nature: Increasing steps taken with use of a pedometer; training for a local road race/walk event; strength training gains; etc. Due to the recent addition of the pull-up bar in my office a group of us performed a baseline max out (I’m starting off with 8 reps), and will be working out on our own to increase that # before the next pull-up max!

If an office wide physical activity  initiative is just not in the cards and you have to go at it alone, check out this post in the Washington Journal, which ranks office exercises by difficulty, sweat factor, and humility – and choose what you are comfortable with!

Do you fit exercise/physical activity in to your workday? In what ways? Is your work culture supportive of these efforts or do you feel awkward for sneaking in some movement?


21 thoughts on “Can Office Work and Physical Activity Coexist?

  1. berryhappybodies says:

    Since I am a physical therapist, I am always moving. However, during lunch I still try to sneak in strength training. My husband sits all day for work, but he does try to break up his day. Taking a 10 min walk break mid morning, during lunch and afternoon. Some days he is able to sneak in 4 miles!!

  2. Samantha says:

    Any of my office jobs have not been in health supportive environments. My goal was usually to get my work done and get out of there. I never worked a job surrounded by health motivated people. I am super lucky right now that I work from home so I can self-regulate a lot better. If I need to do a big sit session and churn the project out, I am still in better shape than in an unhappy office setting.

    Sometimes I think what hurts us in the sitting jobs is not necessarily the sitting, but the emotional drain of unsatisfying work and coupled with no physical outlet to care for ourselves. Moreover the lack of open air and natural light (speaking as one who has been in more than one cubicle with no window in my life. The condition of the mind and the emotions to me often feels just as important as the physical.

    My guess is that an employer that cares about the physical condition of their workers probably also cares about the emotional and mental support.

    • Tanya says:

      Such a good point about the emotional drain of unsatisfying work! There were some rotations during my dietetic internship which were just not the line of work I was in to and I would feel physically and mentally exhausted at the end of the day! Glad you have more of the freedom to work or get up and outside now!!

  3. Kristen @ Swanky Dietitian says:

    Unfortunately, I am sedentary a lot of the day. We have treadmills literally feet away from us, but the upper management doesn’t allow us to use them.
    I do try to take walks and occasionally will run on my break. It is hard cause I switched hours and I don’t always get a full lunch as it is.

    • Tanya says:

      Dress shoes (and clothes in general) are definetly reasons I choose to not get out for walks too! Yoga pants and sneakers = much more active Tanya during the day!

  4. typicallylate says:

    Hi Tanya,

    Just found your blog through Courtney @ Little Food Court – enjoying reading so far! I work for the government in a office building, which is pretty much the worst environment ever, so I love the idea of 10-minute recess! Some of my team members and I try to go out and walk around once or twice a week, but we also encourage each other to take the stairs and move around as much as possible. I think I’ll share this information with them! Thanks!


  5. Nicole says:

    I tried to implement an exercise challenge at my office and no one wanted a single part of it… In fact, they laughed at me. I’m not one to impose fitness on people who aren’t interested so I just dropped it but wanted to lead by example. So I always had banging lunches and constantly found ways to move around. Eventually it inspired the others to clean up their lifestyle a bit!

    • Tanya says:

      Good point. We certainly shouldn’t bully people in to exercise/physical activity. So glad to hear you were able to inspire others through your actions!

  6. Tiffany says:

    I work in a skilled nursing facility and do plenty of sitting while charting, but do get up frequently to chat with residents. My other job is a mom, so that definitely keeps me busy but it doesn’t give you the same exercise that aerobics or weightlifting does, despite how people seem to suggest that moms get enough physical activity just being moms. Not true for me at least. I’ve found that a jogger stroller is the best way to merge activity with mommyhood. Plus, weight lifting when my husband can take childcare duty 🙂 Problem solved!

    • Tanya says:

      I am in awe of parents who run/walk with a stroller! Hills make me huff and puff and then I see someone pushing a full stoller up it and I feel like a weakling!

      • Sean says:

        That just gave me an idea. Im getting a stroller and filling it with weights and then pushing it around on my runs…brilliant!!

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