As America battles an obesity epidemic and the health hazards of sitting too much, physical activity during the workday has never been more important. But in office cultures where even taking a full lunch can be difficult, finding time for a workout can be even tougher.
For workers who can get out for lunch and have access to a nearby fitness center or shower facilities, a short lunch workout can provide tangible benefits not only for fitness, but also for work performance throughout the day.
Charles Hillman, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who studies health behavior and brain structure and function, said two studies of adults have indicated that just a 20-minute bout of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise relates to better short-term cognitive performance on certain tasks. It also enhances performance over time.
“There appear to be acute and chronic responses to physical activity relative to brain function and cognition,” Hillman said. “The acute effects appear to last approximately one hour following the cessation of the bout of aerobic exercise. The chronic effects appear to alter overall performance.”
Workers who don’t have the time or facility access to pull off this kind of workout and look presentable afterward shouldn’t fret. More modest approaches can also reap big benefits.
“Lunch-hour workouts should be a combination of stress reliever and circulation improver,” said Mary Ellen Rose, chief science officer for the Institute for Healthy Destinations and a worksite health promotion consultant. “It doesn’t have to be a full-out sweat-filled workout to benefit your health and wellness.”
Here are nine tips Rose offers for getting more activity throughout the day:
» Stand up while making phone calls. Try doing exercises such as calf raises, side bends, seat squats, desk push-ups and triceps dips that get your blood circulating but don’t leave you huffing and puffing.
» Hold standing meetings or meetings where you walk and talk. This can get you some exercise while also preventing meetings from running long.
» Build exercise breaks into your workday. Set your phone alarm to go off every two or three hours as a reminder to get up and do some light resistance exercise or stretching.
» Search for “15-minute workout videos” on YouTube and Pinterest and then choose exercises that you enjoy to create your own brief workout. Focus on core exercises.
» Memorize a few simple exercises (such as a plank and a push-up) and do them every day for a week. “Add another two exercises to your routine each week,” Rose said. “Before long, you’ll have plenty to choose from and won’t have to think about what to do for a good workout with the time you have.”
» Change into walking shoes, grab a co-worker and head outside for a walk at lunch. Set your phone alarm for 15 or 30 minutes and get as far as you can. Turn back when the alarm sounds.
» Go for a brief stair workout in your building. If that’s too intense, step up onto a 10-inch or 12-inch platform and back down. Lead 25 times with the left foot and 25 times with the right.
» If you drive to work, park at the far end of the lot to get more steps in. If you take public transportation, get off a stop early and walk the rest of the way. Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible.
» Don’t forget the upper body. “That’s where we carry most of our stress and muscle tension,” Rose said. “Stretch and flex the shoulders, neck, back and wrists. Move each joint purposefully and with the intention of improving flexibility and blood circulation through the joint.”
Exercise is more fun when it’s a shared experience, so invite your co-workers to participate whenever possible. And if you can get your boss to buy in, even better.
“Exercise culture starts at the top of the organization,” Rose said. “If the boss takes the time to exercise, he or she will support opportunities for employees to do the same.”