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Get Fitter @ Work!

I recently was given this Fitbit with a heart rate feature so decided to give it a go. I’ve been wearing it for a solid month now, both in the gym and out, and love the instant feedback gained with a quick toggle through the watch options. The features that have me hooked are the steps counter, the heart rate monitor, and the energy expenditure readings. Sure, accuracy is always debatable but the info it provides has merit and is great for goal setting.

We all know being active has many benefits, and when I saw this title pop up in a medical journal the other day, “Prolonged sitting leads to brain atrophy”, I was further compelled to share my experience wearing the tracker and how it influenced my daily activity.

Wearing the device I noticed how my heart rate fluctuated quite a bit by simple activity changes in my day. For example, walking my kids to school, running upstairs to grab my socks, leaving my desk to grab my lunch from the fridge, or taking a bathroom break. Obviously; we all know that exercise increases heart rate and therefore helps burn more calories. But, in this context I was less interested in my planned training sessions at the gym and more in the simple daily activities that increased my heart rate above baseline. Let’s face it most of us spend 23 out of 24 hours a day sitting.

So, what can we do about that? While ’m certainly not suggesting we forego the gym, is it also possible to consciously build-in simple things that break up our sedentary day? If we can do this, can we also improve our overall mental and physical health, AND have an easier time maintaining our weight?

After wearing the watch and also applying what we know from the literature, here are my quick tips to getting fitter at work - tried, tested and true:

1. Stand instead of sit. A simple change to your work environment can help with healthy lifestyle changes. Ergo desks are becoming a thing and for good reason. Standing instead of sitting has benefits for the low back, neck posture, and preventing hip tightness that inevitably leads to poor mobility and chronic back stiffness. Standing requires more muscle activation and thus increases heart rate compared to sitting, therefore a few extra calories burned. Since I see clients much of the day, I wasn’t sure how to implement this but wanted to give it a try. So, I tried out a small, portable option for my laptop that has adjustable heights so I can easily switch between standing for when I’m writing nutrition plans and sitting for my client counselling. This AnthroDesk is example of what I’m using. It was easy to assemble and a no fuss solution to making my otherwise sedentary day a little more active.

2. Take the stairs. Simple tasks like taking the stairs or parking farther from your destination are simple ways to get the heart rate up throughout the day. I know we’re busy, but by the time you wait for the elevator, or circle the parking lot ten times for a closer spot, it’s likely gonna take you longer! Using my Fitbit, I loved seeing how I could elevate my heart rate and increase my daily activity by incorporating these small things into my day. Small adjustments like this help you get closer to achieving the health standard goal of 10 000 steps a day.

3. Can you walk instead of drive? While this doesn’t always pan out for various reasons, I was shocked to see how FEW steps I did on some days. Yikes! For someone who claims to be active, I was frankly embarrassed by my stats. Sure I tend to make it to the gym 4 days a week, but that’s only 1 hour of my day. Studies show that more physical activity leads to better weight management, improved mood, higher insulin sensitivity and much more. While walking doesn’t spike the heart rate, it certainly contributes to total daily activity and increases heart rate above baseline which ultimately contributes to higher daily energy expenditures. With this new info glaring at me from my wrist, I make efforts to set goals around increasing my steps when possible.

4. Do some squats, or push ups, or burpees, or jumping jacks, or toe touches, or basically anything that you can do right where you are that elevates heart rate and moves your muscles! Not only will this help burn some calories but it also increases adrenaline and blood flow, aiding in digestion, alleviating joint stiffness and also boosts energy and mood. Apparently it can also improve memory and brain function. Test this out when you’re falling asleep at your desk at 3:30 pm and see how you perk up. It’s better than coffee! Your co -workers may think you’re nuts but point out some of these benefits and they may be joining you. A quick set of push ups for example may take as few as 30 sec to 2 mins and can instantly double your heart rate. If you set a goal to do 10 or 20 squats or push ups every hour or two, think about the cumulative effect on your cardiovascular health and daily energy expenditure.

My message today is don’t have an all or nothing attitude when it comes to improving your health. Every little bit counts. Setting some small goals to facilitate being active is a good step. This may mean making some small changes to your work or home environment or re-evaluating daily habits to facilitate more movement. For me, the wearable tracker uncovered that I wasn’t as active as I thought. Using the data, I have now made some small changes to my workspace and am making more efforts to walk. Elevating heart rate whenever possible has both physical and mental health benefits and always remember that when it comes to healthy lifestyle change, the cumulative effects of small things can sometimes make the biggest difference in the long term.

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