Walking Away from Excuses: The Benefits of Physical Activity During the Work Day

September 3, 2013

Originally published Feb. 13, 2012

The excuses for why we don't exercise are endless - "I don't have time." "I don't have a gym." "I have to pick up the kids/cook dinner/coach soccer after work." "I HATE working out.", but PHWEEK has found that many people push past those excuses and make it a priority to work out. And these are not people who have endless amounts of time once they leave the office to mosey to the gym and work out for a few hours. People with plenty of other responsibilities once they leave the office are still finding ways to live active life styles. What's their secret, you ask? They fit their workouts into their workday.

Shelleva Orr, an analyst with DPH's Maternal and Child Health Section, has been leading a lunch time fitness class in the aerobics room at 2 Peachtree since 2003. Between 15 and 30 participants arrive each day at noon ready for aerobics and strength training. "Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays we concentrate on aerobics and Tuesday and Thursdays are our weights and abs days," explained Orr.  


Orr often also works out before or after work, so when asked why she makes it a priority to work out during the day, she explained that she benefits not only from the extra activity each day but from seeing the changes in her participants. "One participant started out with high blood pressure and was on seven different medications. After three months she was down to four medications and after a year she was down to just one," Orr said. "It is accomplishments like that that motivate me to do this every day." 

Orr explained that one barrier to working out goes beyond just fitting it into busy schedules. "Some people are afraid of exercise. They don't know where to start. But with this group, we really support each other and depend on each other." Orr sends out motivational emails each day and also emails participants who do not show up. "We keep each other accountable!" she explained.
Research published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management found that people who fit exercise into their workday were re-energized, calmer and more able to solve problems. This research is fully supported by Ebony Thomas, an epidemiologist with DPH, who finds that her runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays during her lunch breaks relieve stress. "If I'm having a stressful day or I'm feeling overwhelmed it feels great to go for a run and clear my head," said Thomas. "I often come back refreshed and ready to tackle the second part of my day." 

Thomas started running during her lunch break in November 2011 when training for her first half marathon. "I typically leave work late and found it really hard to fit in a run before the sun went down," said Thomas. "I was training for my race alone and felt uncomfortable running in the dark before or after work." Thomas knew that she had to find time during the day for her training. She talked to her supervisor about running during her lunch break and her supervisor was okay with it and very supportive.  "She even joins me for runs sometimes," shared Thomas.

Thomas runs with her badge and cell phone and always lets someone know when she is headed out for a run. "When I began running at work, I provided a map of my route to a co-worker so someone would know the route I ran," said Thomas. 

One of the biggest challenges Thomas faces with running at lunch time is finding time for it.  "I am very flexible with the days I run. I try to bring my running gear every day. If for some reason I get busy on Tuesday or Thursday, I move my running day to another day," she explained. "I try to clear my head and not think about work while I'm running. That can also be a challenge!"

According to the study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, when people remove themselves from work and fit an active break into their work day, they often also experience the added bonus of their whole day feeling much more productive. Seventy two percent of study participants reported improvements in time management on exercise days compared to non-exercise days, 79 percent said mental and interpersonal performance was better on days they exercised and 74 percent of study participants said they managed their workload better

Being active at work does not have to mean changing into workout clothes to lift weights or run a few miles. There are ways to be active throughout the day. "I take the stairs for all meetings on other floors and I usually take a few minutes every day to walk up and down seven flights," said PHWEEK reader Marcia Hunter.  "It doesn't take much time and it energizes me when I start to feel stodgy."

A study done in 1953 looked at British transit workers. Half were bus drivers and have were ticket takers who walked around all day and collected tickets from passengers. The bus drivers sat 90 percent of their days and the ticket takers were up walking for the same amount of time. There was a 70 percent decrease in heart disease and death in the ticket takers-even though they were the same weight as the bus drivers. Physical activity is key!

There are many ways to be active during the workday.  53% of PHPOLL respondents fit physical activity into their workday. With the mild winter that Georgia is experiencing, people should have no excuse for not leaving their keyboards a few minutes a day and fitting in a bit of activity.  

Thomas said it best "Being active during the day is great. Endorphins equal happy employees!"

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