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American Heart Association

Exercise outside of the gym: How to be active at work

4 Minute Read

Working Americans are often tied to desks, sitting behind the wheel, or on the couch watching television to unwind. Full-time jobs can make it difficult to find time for the gym.  But this can lead to serious health problems.  “There’s a strong link between a sedentary lifestyle and the risk of death. It also increases the risk of adverse health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and many types of cancer,” said Qaiser Mukhtar, a health scientist in the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity & Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “That’s why physical activity is so important.” 

So how can effective workouts be squeezed into busy work weeks?  The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or a combination of the two, to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.  While that might sound like a lot, it works out to only 30 minutes a day for a five-day workweek.  The good news for office workers or at-home workers who may have difficulty blocking out even a half hour for exercise is, you don’t have to get those 30 minutes all at once.  “Bouts of even less than 10 minutes at a time are beneficial,” said Dr. Michael V. McConnell, head of Cardiovascular/Mobile Health at Google Health.

So here are some easy, even fun ways to stay active at work:

  • No one ever said meetings had to be held sitting down. Take a walking meeting instead. You’ll exercise your heart, get the blood flowing, and may come back to the office with some out-of-the-box ideas.
  • Call a walking buddy to join you during your lunch hour or scheduled breaks.
  • Going to the office and you already walk down three flights of stairs and up two? Good. Now increase your physical activity by using a restroom on another floor or getting off the elevator a floor or two below yours and taking the stairs the rest of the way. And no one says you have to use the copier, printer, or waste bin closest to your desk.
  • Water cooler talk is fine, but water cooler stretches and squats are even better. Harvard epidemiology professor Kaumudi Joshipura has a whole movement called VMove dedicated to helping people move more anytime, anywhere, and without needing any special gear or attire.
  • For example, don’t just sit there while talking on the phone. Stand up and march in place, do squats or swing your arms instead. Take brief breaks to stand and move during long sedentary meetings. Do ankle circles and flexes while sitting or lift your legs and hold them up for five seconds. And don’t forget your wrists, arms, and neck. They also need to be stretched after long hours at the keyboard.
  • Healthier workers are more productive, take fewer sick days, and have lower health care costs. So join your company’s employee-wellness committee (or start one if you have to) to make it easier to exercise during the workday. Consider these steps:
    • Flexible work schedules so you have more time to exercise before or after work while it’s still daylight.
    • Schedule meetings to end five minutes early to encourage people to get up and move around.
    • Make standing or walking desks available to those who want one.
    • The latest in employee benefits: paid time to exercise.


Article provided by the American Heart Association

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