12 Ways to Fit in Fitness at the Office

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: November 20, 2013

You've Gotta Want It!

Has your gym lock been repurposed for use as a paperweight? While it might be quite effective at holding down all those "must read" memos, it looked better dangling from your gym locker. Remember? The gym? You first wandered in months ago. Hopeful. Resolved. You made promises. Signed papers. And bought a lock.

Sure, it’s tough to fit in fitness. Especially in the dead of winter with crowded gyms full of people clinging to their New Year's resolutions and temperatures that make working out outside more than a little icy. Not to mention the fact that your job may require extra dedication in tough economic times.  But why not aim for success in both? You have enough challenges in your life. Fitting into your pants shouldn’t be one of them. To fit fitness into your life, it must fit in at work. Here’s how:

You Have to Make Time for Fitness

Tag the time-wasters in your day. Are you continually searching for a working pen amongst a drawer full of writing rejects? Does Bill always call you in to his cubicle for a quick rehash of last night's softball game? Maybe it's a slow elevator? Or a slow colleague.

There are ways around time wasting events. Organize your office. Add a few steps to your trek from the elevator and avoid Bill altogether (or at least until after the first snowfall). Reclaim a few minutes you can redirect toward your personal fitness.

Hint: a slow elevator is a good thing if it leads you to the stairwell.

Take the Farthest Parking Spot from Your Office Entrance

Lucky you. You always find the best parking places. And winning the "Employee of the Month" spot gets you on your way home while co-worker Linda is still roaming the lot debating whether to trigger her car alarm again.

But Linda is burning calories and working up a sweat. She's stretching leg muscles every time she strains to see if she parked by the dumpster, the sidewalk…or was it the mailbox?

What if you did that on purpose? Blindfolded parking is unnecessary. Just pick a spot at the edge of the lot. Five extra minutes of walking twice a day is a better prize than the one with your name on it.

Bike to Work if Possible

Cycle to work? But where will you put your coffee mug? Riding a bike to work requires a bit of planning. Where will you shower? Can you stash grooming essentials at work ahead of time? Is there a secure place to lock up your ride home?

But at least weigh the options before eliminating this excellent fitness opportunity. You're a problem-solver. Would biking one way and using public transportation for the opposite direction be more doable to start? Be creative. Think of a bike commute as a two-for-one. When the extra endorphins blow through your system, you might not even need that caffeine after all.

Sometimes It's OK to Miscount

OK. Don't try this one in the office, folks. Accounting can get a bit fussy about number accuracy. But on the way to the office, it could be a good thing. 

Get off the bus or subway early and hoof it in. Add half a mile or more each way on a daily basis and you've made a significant dent in the weekly 150 minutes of moderate exercise recommended for adults.

It's mind clearing, fresh air time too. Leave the germs and aromatic bus buddies behind. And when you walk in the door to your job, you'll know you've already accomplished something important.

Take the Stairway to Fitness Heaven

Elevators are just plain awkward. Groups gather to stare at closed doors and unlit arrows, intent on ignoring the cell phone addict who is broadcasting, whisper by whisper, their latest medical conditions and relational dysfunctions. Others gamely fill the void with generic conversations timed to end with the ding and mass boarding of the cube of silence where staring space will be severely limited.

Take the steps. It's faster and better for you. Witty comments are entirely optional on a stairway passing. A polite nod is adequate, leaving you free to flex your calves and collect your thoughts.

Walk and Talk at the Same Time

Flip through your cell phone manual until you find the part that reads "Caution: do not walk with mobile device." (Don’t spend a lot of time looking. It isn't in there)

Mobile phones are, well, mobile. So why sit when you could move around and boost your fitness quotient? Walking will also save you from clicking through random web pages or doing a drum roll with your ballpoints when occasional callers flirt with verbosity.

This won't work if you need to refer to charts or emails during the conversation. But for brainstorming? Why not think on your feet?

Trade Places with the Intern

Rethink the hierarchy of errand-running. Sure, the interns need something to do once they've catalogued old client leads and updated useless information. But why should they have all the fun?

Doing the office coffee or lunch run earns you at least 20 minutes of physical activity, potential vitamin D if it's a sunny day and your favorite turkey sandwich. Without the mayo, of course.

You're a fitness champ if you can keep it up when the weather is less than postcard perfect.

Forget Lunchtime Takeout, Workout Instead

Area health clubs look at your building and see a full fish pond. Your office is a great catch, ripe with prospective clients. And many times that leads to a discounted corporate rate.

A partnering gym will most likely be just as convenient to work as the downstairs pastry shop you hit this morning. So why not work out during your lunch hour? Even once or twice a week is better than nothing. After work when everyone is inching home on the roadways, you could be de-stressing with a quick workout.

Check on corporate rate discounts for gym memberships. Suggest the idea to Human Resources if none exists.

Remind Yourself to Make Time for Workouts

You get email alerts to cancel subscriptions, remember your dental appointment and to call your mom. Text messages remind you to pay your bills and use coupon codes. Why not harness the power of guilt and aim it toward your health?

There's nothing like a little self-harassment to jumpstart your resolve. Fit daily fitness time onto your calendar and add reminder alerts (Hardcore motivators should follow up "Go work out" with "I mean it!"). Yes, you may be in the midst of an unavoidable task, but a reminder will allow you to make a choice instead of lose an opportunity.

Keep Weights in Your Cubicle

Resistance bands and/or hand weights are small enough to fit in a drawer or under your desk. When you find yourself between meetings but without enough time to tackle anything substantial, why not take five to lift ten?

Resistance bands can be used to work just about every muscle. Educate yourself on the options. Try them out at home first to avoid sailing any across the office and starting a rubber band war.

Don't Let Business Travel Detour Your Fitness Plans

Getting to the hotel in time to dump luggage and make your 9 a.m. was enough of a challenge. And getting your projector through security definitely exercised your patience. With a full day of client meetings ahead, a work out in the hotel gym just isn't on your agenda.

But wait. Hold that thought. Now stick it through your mental shredder. You'll sleep better and work better if you mix in some motion. Can you walk to meetings or to pick up dinner later? Or get a walking/running route from the concierge or online? You might feel like collapsing, but you’ll feel better if you fit in fitness first.

It might mean late nights or 5 a.m. wake-up calls, but if you really want to make fitness a priority you'll do what you have to do.

Make Some Group Goals with Coworkers

Here's an extracurricular leadership opportunity. Start a regular walking, running or stair-climbing group at work. You can't be the only one who has too much to do and not enough time for yourself. Unite with like-minded coworkers and hold yourselves accountable to one another.

Set up a couple of routes with an indoor option in case of bad weather. Waylay excuses with backup plans and set some goals. If you engage in mall walking, set a "no stopping and shopping" rule to maintain a fitness focus. Or at least decide how cute the shoes have to be to merit a try-on.

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Recognize physical health as a long-term objective critical to your mental health, productivity and career success. 

Excuses are available on a full-time basis but rate low on the benefit side. Aim to link pieces of time together into a chain reaction. Don't be surprised by surprises. They will happen. Especially when expense reports are due.

Reclaim that gym lock and reacquaint yourself with the concept of cardio. Post fitness goals where you make choices: at your desk and in your car. An inspirational note beats a hula girl on the dash and could help you in building a habit of health.

Good luck!

Recommended Reading

Try one of these books (or e-books) for even more information:

  • Office Yoga: Simple Stretches for Busy People
  • Fitness 9 to 5: Easy Exercises for the Working Week
  • Deskercise: A Revolutionary Exercise Program You Can Do Right at Your Desk
  • Working on the Ball: A Simple Guide to Office Fitness
  • Stretching in the Office