Finish Strong Part 2- How to stay fit even if you work at a desk.
Welcome back to my blog! After my last blog of how to get yourself set up for the next part of the year I thought it would be a good time to look at what else can both get us in a good frame of mind yet is the bane of so many people’s lives. Yes ladies and gentlemen I’m talking about exercise. Love it or loath it, it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s no longer a luxury we can afford to miss out on. As if getting hot and sweaty (easy tiger) wasn’t difficult enough we are mostly bound to desks for at least 8 hours of the day in which we move about as much as Brexit negotiations- not a lot (don’t ever say I don’t treat you to topical humour)! So, in efforts to learn more about how we can all be a bit fitter and talk through some common rumours about exercise I sat down with my friend and Rebecca Wagner. Rebecca is a sport nutrition consultant, trained in sport science and nutrition to a masters level she is all around amazing to talk to about health and fitness. Here is some of the questions I asked which is was gracious enough to give incredibly useful and practical answers too.
So, over the years we've heard many different recommendations for exercise, 10,000 steps a day, 15 minute of intense exercise as well as many other bits of advice. Can you give us an insight as to how we know how much we should be exercising?
The easy answer to this is more than you’re doing now! If you’re on your feet all day or have an active job then you are probably already meeting your daily step goal, however if you have a job where you are set most of the day it is unlikely you’re on the move enough. NHS guidelines suggest we need 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise (eg brisk walking, cycling ect) plus 2 days involving strength based exercises that work the major muscle groups. This can get a bit complicated, particularly when scheduling around your day so to break it down. Try and include some exercise every day that you can do whilst maintaining conversation such a walk or gentle run, and 2 sessions a week of something that gets you sweaty! High intensity exercise is great if your limited on time or get bored easily as you work hard for a short amount of time (15-20 mins) resulting in a high energy expenditure (meaning more calories burned)
Sounds like a winner! Okay, another question, being in the office I find I can be very still for long periods of time. Does this affect our health and do you have any tips to combat this for those of us who struggle to pull ourselves away from the desk?
Essentially when you’re sat down you use less energy than when you’re up and about and walking. Health implications to this are extensive and when you google them are quite scary! But put simply, if you consume more calories than you use then weight gain occurs which comes which it’s own list of issues. Other than weight gain sitting down can cause issue for joints and muscles that are not being used enough, digestion is compromised so we may experience gut issues, along with the fact that sitting still is not doing much for our mental health. Sitting at a desk for long periods of time not only reduces blood flow to the brain meaning we get tired and lose focus, but it also means we’re probably spending too much time working leading to stress and low moods. Stepping away from the desk regularly should be as important as the time spent at it. At the start of you work day plan in your breaks for a little walk about (only has to be 5-10 minutes) and stick to them as you would stick to a meeting that was planned. Avoid eating your lunch at your desk and drinking plenty of water doesn’t only keep you hydrated and focused but means your have to get up for lots of toilet trips!
Ah I've been guilty of far too many working lunches! Time to get to somewhere else instead. Speaking of lunch, I've heard of some people who work from home skipping a meal, either because they're not hungry or are trying to lose weight, can I ask is this okay for our bodies?
Fasting (not eating for a period of time) has been discussed in scientific literature to have a variety of benefits to health, however can lead to leading to under-fuelling if not done appropriately. Rather than skipping meals, which can just make us more hungry and eat more later on in the day, eating small meals regularly helps maintain blood sugar levels. Ensure your meals they have a protein source and a source of slow release carbohydrates (whole grains) and avoid anything super sweet and sugary that won’t keep you going for very long. Snacks are good if you can’t face a full meal but keep them high in protein and fats to curb the sugary cravings.
Snacks have always been my downfall. I know for many 9-5 workers they have a real 3 o'clock slump in which they try to find something sugary to boost their energy long enough for the rest of the day. Any advice on healthy alternatives?
This is often when our blood sugar levels drop and we are getting a bored at work so are looking for a fix of sugar for a quick pick-me-up. However this won’t sustain your energy levels and you’ll find yourself reaching for chocolate bar number two come 5 o clock. Swapping refined sugars for a protein or slow release carbs source will keep you going for longer. Good swaps include: nuts, Greek yogurt, peanut butter on anything, hummus and veggies to dip. If it’s something sweet you crave reach for fruit and if it must be chocolate swap it out for a high percentage cocoa dark chocolate.
Okay, one last thing. I'm not a huge fan of exercise and I envy anyone who finds it easy and enjoyable all the time. Do you have any advice on how to make it more fun? How to make sure we do it? And finally how to maximise its effectiveness?
Or am I asking the impossible?
Exercise doesn’t have to mean pounding the road for miles on a run or throwing weights around in the gym. You are more likely to stick at it if you enjoy it, so making exercise fun is important. Maybe give a sport a go that you’ve always wanted to try, mix up the exercise type, or make it a social occasion by doing it with a friend. Taking away the mind set that we ‘have to’ do it and instead develop into something you ‘want to’ do will mean you’re more likely to stick at it. Making it a solid date in your diary a few times a week that you work around rather than trying to fit it in where you can will build it into a habit.
In regards to effectiveness, we can’t expect every session to be our best workout however making sure you’re appropriately fuelled before and after exercise will support your health goals. If you’re at a loose end seek the assistance of those trained in the industry such as a personal trainer and qualified nutritionist as there is no one size fits all plan.
The take away message would be to move more, eat based foods that will sustain energy for your brain and body, and enjoy your sessions! The endorphins will speak for themselves!
Thanks so much to Rebecca for spending the time to talk to me about everything health and fitness. If you’d like personalised advice for you or your business she also runs a consultancy business about how to help people stay healthier in the work place and beyond. If you want to hire her, which you do, her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.