Executive Fitness: Staying Fit Throughout the Day

Fitness, relaxation and nutrition tips to help improve physical fitness, vitality and energy in and out of the office

Credit: Ed Ng Photography

Exercise is important to everyone, especially as we get older. But it’s not always easy or convenient to get sufficient and effective forms of exercise when working in an office. Long hours of sitting with limited movement can be taxing on the body and not conducive to good muscle tone.

After the age of 40 is when many people find that their physical fitness levels become more challenging to maintain. To counter the aging process, it is important to develop training routines between the ages of 40 and 50 before many health problems set in. Staying fit is equally important and should be structured and goal-driven in order to achieve successful results. Staying fit has a positive impact on every aspect of your life and the following will help you to not only achieve physical fitness, but increase energy, vitality and mental alertness:

  1. Daily exercise routines
  2. Circuit training to increase strength
  3. Cardio components
  4. Mind-body connections (meditation and deep breathing)
  5. Diet and nutrition

Depending on the work environment, staying fit throughout the workday generally means getting up to move and stretch at regular intervals. Ingrid Knight-Cohee, group fitness director at Steve Nash Fitness World & Sports Clubs, suggests incorporating any kind of movement every 30 to 45 minutes to improve physical and mental alertness. This can be as easy as taking your calls while standing, delivering a message in person rather than emailing within the office, taking the stairs over the elevator or escalator, parking further away from the building entrance, or even just rotating your shoulders to release neck tension when seated at your desk. All of these little exercises can add up to increased energy and reduce fatigue and stress in a typical workday. As a reminder to move, consider setting a timer on your computer or smartphone.

For before or after work, circuit training is a popular form of training to increase strength that is time-efficient and can cover most muscle groups in less than 45 minutes. Circuits are generally made up of eight to 10 stations that involve performing one exercise for 30 to 60 seconds, then moving onto the next station for a different exercise, and finally repeating the entire circuit twice. Keep rest breaks short and balance exercises between the upper/lower body and front/back of the body. Knight-Cohee suggests circuits that focus on postural muscles and functional movement are a good bet for typical workday muscle imbalances. Bent over rows, squats and lunges with medicine balls, lat pull-downs and planks are all great exercises to include in your next circuit!

To improve your cardiovascular fitness, aim to get your heart rate into your training zone most days of the week (60 to 90 percent of HRmax), and include both steady-state and interval training.  For example, Knight-Cohee recommends a group cycling class or Tabata-style workout that will challenge both your aerobic and anaerobic systems respectively, and help with fat loss or weight management. 

Workers can also benefit from other healthy habits, such as meditation or using a tool such as a TriggerPoint roller to release muscle tension. The simple practice of deep breathing can be highly beneficial in so many ways. Deep breathing increases oxygen circulation in the bloodstream, enhances brain function and activates the parasympathetic nervous system that gives the body a chance to recuperate, regenerate and heal. This can increase awareness and help create better relationships by allowing you to reduce anger and look at situations from a new perspective. Deep breathing also reduces the acidity level in your body, which in turn reduces inflammation. Build awareness of the quality and depth of your breathing by counting how many seconds you inhale versus exhale. See if you can slow down to 20 seconds each breath cycle. I have found deep-breath work pairs well with guided visualization or meditation, reducing stress and improving focus. Seek out meditation apps or DVDs, or a weekly meditation class.

For steady computer users, Knight-Cohee suggests to abide by the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This gives your eyes necessary screen breaks. Other mindful acts at work she suggests include: listening to relaxing background music, using a speakerphone or headset—to avoid neck tension and potential injury by holding a phone between your ear and shoulder—and aiming to fit in stress-relieving workouts, yoga or even just a brisk walk on your lunch break to maintain energy levels in the afternoon.

Last but not least, one of the most crucial components to sustained energy and alertness is hydration. Knight-Cohee highly recommends a daily habit of limiting caffeine to 400 mg (about as much as in two cups of espresso) and drinking two liters of water. An easy and effective way I’ve found to up your water intake is to drink hot water and lemon throughout the day, especially in the morning. Not only does this quick drink curb your appetite—so you know when you’re actually hungry and not just eating out of boredom—the lemon juice aids digestion, balances pH levels, boosts your immune system, promotes healing, hydrates your lymphatic system, energizes and enhances your mood, clears skin, freshens breath and—by curbing hunger pains—aids in weight loss. Another useful tip: keep an ‘energy stash’ in your top desk drawer, rather than a sugar stash, with snacks such as protein bars (I’m obsessed with Vega’s chocolate peanut butter protein bar), dried fruit and nuts, single-serving applesauce, or whole-grain crackers and hummus. Knight-Cohee also recommends starting weekly office potlucks. “It’s a terrific way to inject workplace camaraderie through sharing healthy recipes,” she says.

All class and workout options mentioned above (circuit training, cycling, Tabata, meditation and yoga) are available at Steve Nash Fitness World & Sports Clubs.