5 easy ways to exercise during the workday (and improve your life)

It’s 2:30PM and you’re sitting at your desk slack-jawed and fuzzy-brained. You know you have plenty to do, yet you find yourself trying to find the energy, staring at your computer monitor, just willing yourself to be productive. The burrito you demolished at lunch is sitting in your stomach like a boulder, and you’re feeling sluggish and unfocused.

There has to be a better way, right?

There is: leave your desk and move a little.

You’ll come back feeling renewed — enough to skip the sugary latte and office doughnuts that lure you in the afternoons.

Exercise makes you better at your job

Exercise during the workday can feel like one more item on our to-do list we’ll never get to. Days can be packed with meetings, you may fear smelling like a high school locker room when you get back at your desk, and maybe your boss will consider your midday absence suspicious.

Maybe that’s why in a week busy with work and family demands, exercise is nearly the first thing to go.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a reported 23% of Americans actually bother to exercise during the week.

Why even try? Because exercise can save your workday and re-energize you in a way that even coffee can’t.

Better than coffee

First, let’s establish this: you need to take breaks. Whether you exercise or just choose to stare into space for 15 minutes, research shows that diverting your attention away from a task for even a short period of time will help you better focus on that project for prolonged periods when you return.

While staring into space can be appealing in a zombie kind of way, it doesn’t provide many mental benefits. Remaining sedentary for long periods of time makes you want to sit around even more.  On the other hand, numerous studies have proven that a midday workout can boost everything from your productivity and creativity to your overall job satisfaction. One study identified a 5-10% improvement in cognitive function for people who got up and hit the gym.

Afternoon is also one of the peak times to workout from a physical standpoint. Your body temperature rises a few degrees in the middle of the day, meaning your muscles are more warmed up than if you just hopped out of bed and straight onto the treadmill. That means fewer injuries and increased performance.

A midday workout is also a great way to blow off some steam. “You’ll feel positive and happy, since endorphins are released when you workout,” explains Eve Karlin, Fitness Manager at Crunch Fitness in Burbank, CA, “In addition, exercising in the middle of the day is a great way to release stress.”

A mid-day workout is possible

There are plenty of employers across the country that place a huge emphasis on physical well-being. You’ve probably heard the rumblings of the on-site gyms, smoothie bars, and afternoon yoga classes in the middle of the conference room. In fact, a focus on physical health is reportedly one of the most popular perks an employer can offer.

Hope Alcocer, a New York City-based professional in her late twenties who works remotely for FinTech company, Xamin Inc., has been exercising in the middle of her workday for the past several months. “My job as Creative Ambassador requires me to live up to the title: creative,” she says, “I can’t do my job to the best of my ability if I don’t feel refreshed both mentally and physically. Working out in the middle of the day allows me to do that.”

Alcocer’s employer is completely supportive. “As long as we get our work done, they’re cool with it,” she adds. Xamin’s President even went so far as to start a 2017 challenge focused on fitness, health, and wellness goals for employees—and, he also works out in between his own meetings.

Jason (name has been changed), who’s in his late twenties and works at an insurance company in a mid-sized Midwestern city, paints an entirely different picture. “My boss would lose her mind if I left in the middle of the day to go to the gym,” he says, “While I wouldn’t necessarily describe her as a clock-watcher, she’s a big believer in the fact that the workday is for work only.”

As a result, Jason hits the gym on his way home from the office—a time when it’s usually bustling with other busy professionals. “It’s not ideal,” he adds, “But, it’s really my only choice. I make it work.”

How to do it

If you haven’t done mid-day workouts before, here are some pro tips for becoming an office workout warrior.

  • If you work remotely like Alcocer, do what she does: use dry shampoo, a change of clothes, and an added layer of deodorant, which is her routine before heading back from the gym to her shared workspaces in Brooklyn and the city.
  • Take a walk. If you’re near a park, grass or trees, nature resets our minds and bodies. In a city, explore the streets around you.
  • Use one-minute workout programs or StretchClock—a timer that reminds you when it’s time to stand up from your desk chair and stretch out a little bit— to incorporate movement into your daily work routine. “It’s easy to do these exercises in ‘stealth mode’ and no one would even know you’re doing them,” Shane Gildnes, Founder of StretchClock, says. “They’re only one minute long, so they’re over before anybody would notice.”
  • Gildnes suggests small changes—like grabbing water or a snack on a different floor than your desk or parking further away from the office building—to add just a little more movement to your workday.
  • If you prefer a gym, break up your workouts. “I would recommend focusing on cardio before going to work and then resistance training during your work break,” explains Karlin from Crunch Fitness, “Another great option is taking a yoga class or walking on the treadmill at an incline.”