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Get active at the office

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If you're reading this at work, take a moment and stretch your arms into the air. Or release that computer mouse and do a couple of wrist rotations. Your body will thank you for it.

Sitting at a desk is somewhat new for me. I have never had to worry about finding the time to exercise. Until now, exercising has always been my job. Now I'm in a position you may find familiar: working Monday to Friday, from nine to five, with evenings that are jam-packed with commitments.

Even after a few months, I can already feel the effects of sitting at a desk for long periods of time. My posture slowly deteriorates as the day goes by, my muscles feel tighter, and I feel less energetic.

My new situation has forced me to be creative and find ways to integrate exercise into my regular workday, by turning my coffee breaks or lunch hour into mini-workout sessions. By combining three 10-minute activity breaks during my workday, every day, I can meet the weekly 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity recommended by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

A workday workout might involve taking a brisk walk with my colleagues or turning an empty office or boardroom into a temporary gym or yoga studio over my lunch hour.

These mini workplace workouts can make a difference to your health, too. Research shows that completing three brisk 10-minute walking sessions a day is effective in reducing blood pressure. Taking activity breaks also reduces stress, increases productivity and makes us more effective at our job.

Many Winnipeggers are finding ways to include activity in their workday. Cassandra Siemens, an accountant for Manitoba Hydro International, can often be found spending her lunch hour at a nearby gym. She knows that working out will give her a stronger heart and lower blood pressure.

But there are times when she can't get out for lunch, because accountants often work long hours. "During month end, the gym is not feasible, so I try to take short, fun breaks just to get up and get moving. It wouldn't be unusual to see me shooting hoops or playing a quick game of pick-up street hockey outside."

Another person who gets active at lunch is Marie Nedohin, an administrative assistant. She's part of a group of three friends who use urban walking poles to increase the intensity of their walks. As they go, they talk about how walking gives them increased energy, improves their attitude and makes them happier people.

Walking poles "really work a lot more muscles than a regular walk would," says Nedohin. "It goes by so fast that you don't even realize that you've just spent 45 minutes working out."

Exercising as a group promotes camaraderie within the workplace. "It gives you an opportunity to learn about your coworkers on a more personal level," says Nedohin. "It's a real bonding experience."

Val Sylvestre, who goes urban poling with Nedohin, also takes advantage of a lunch-time yoga class. "I try to do a variety of different activities because it keeps the boredom away," says Sylvestre. Doing different activities "helps to keep me in good physical condition. You use different muscle groups with each different activity."

 

Fitting 150 minutes into your work week

Try this sample schedule of aerobic, strengthening and stretching exercises to get you started:

Monday

  • 10 minutes of brisk walking followed by five minutes of stair walking.
  • 15 minutes of body weight circuit training at lunch.

Tuesday

  • 10 minutes of stair walking, followed by five minutes of stretching on each coffee break. Click here for some easy-to-follow how-to videos.
  • 15 minutes for a walking meeting.

Wednesday

  • 15 minutes of brisk walking.
  • 15 minutes of body weight circuit training at lunch.

Thursday

  • 10 minutes of circuit training. Try wall push-ups, squats, jumping jacks, balancing on one leg, calf raises, lunges and chair crunches.
  • 10 minutes of stair walking.
  • 10 minutes of chair yoga.

Friday

  • 40-minute brisk walk at lunch time.

Here are some tips to put your ideas into action:

1. Set a goal

Make sure that you are specific about what you want to do and put the commitment into your calendar. Writing "I am going to walk twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:15 for the month of October" is a great place to start.

2. Make it social

Try activities with a group of your co-workers. In addition to increasing commitment, exercising as a group promotes camaraderie.

3. Make it fun

Gather your co-workers and participate in a workplace challenge such as the Walk for Wellness Challenge, or come up with your own plan.

4. Add variety

Try a muscle- and bone-strengthening activity like yoga or circuit training two times a week. Some how-to posters and a bit of space are all you need. Squats, lunges, wall push-ups, desk dips, and chair sit-ups are all great exercises you can put into a mini circuit that require no equipment at all. Try doing 15 controlled repetitions of each exercise without stopping, two to three times, with a two-minute break between each round. If you don't have an instructor or space to run a yoga class at your workplace, check out the Alberta Centre 4 Active Living website for a series of Yoga @ Your Desk videos.

5. Keep motivated

You may agree to a donate-a-dollar policy where every time a member of the group misses a workout they have to donate a dollar. At the end of the month you can donate the money to a charity of choice.


FYI

If you want to motivate yourself and others to be active during the workday, consider becoming a wellness champion by co-ordinating a walking challenge, such as the Walk for Wellness Challenge. The challenge uses pedometers, and is designed so people of all abilities can participate. For information on how to get started, visit walkforwellnesschallenge.ca.

For additional tools, resources and supports to activate your workplace, consider becoming a "workplace in motion."

If you are looking for ideas and information on how to incorporate physical
activity into your workday and beyond, visit Winnipeg in motion or call 940-3648.

Amy Tibbs is a co-ordinator with Winnipeg in motion.

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