Easy Ways to Increase Activity at Work

The Institute of Medicine recommends 60 minutes of vigorous exercise everyday to maintain optimal health. The scientific evidence is clear – we would all be healthier if we did real exercise for an hour a day.  But – as Dr. Richard Forgos says in his commentary on the subject  – “An hour a day? You’ve got to be kidding!”  I agree – It’s next to impossible for most physicians, students and residents to find an hour to exercise every day.  (Which is really more like 1½ or 2 hours if you plan to go somewhere like a gym).

That being said, any amount of exercise you can add to what you are (or aren’t) doing now will improve your health, help you control your weight, and improve your mood.  When you can, try to schedule a real workout.  When you can’t, focus on easy ways to add small amounts of activity into your normal day:

Take the stairs.  For one week, make yourself take the stairs every time you change floors.  You’ll see an improvement in your huffing and puffing by the end of the week, and you’ll be convinced that this is real exercise!  When I was a resident, one of our legendary attendings climbed a new mountain every summer during his vacation.  The only training he ever did was to take the stairs in the hospital.  (He looked great after 10 flights of stairs… the interns were suffering.)  At a minimum make a 2 or 3 floor rule i.e. take the stairs if you are going up 2 or 3 floors.  You should always take the stairs if you are going down!

Commute on your feet. If you live close enough (and it’s safe), walk or bike to work.  If you have to drive, park farther away than you usually do so you have to walk a little farther.

Wear a pedometer. Find out how many steps is an “average” day for you and set a new goal.  Shoot for a minimum of 10,000 steps a day.

Don’t stroll on rounds.  A lot of people who give advice about increasing activity talk about “walk meetings”.  We have walk meetings all the time!  (We call them rounds.)  If you are in charge of rounds, set the standard by walking quickly between areas and taking the stairs.

Drink a lot of water and then use restrooms on a different floor. No one drinks enough water at work, so this helps meet that need.  The obvious consequence of drinking enough water can lead to more walking!

Stand when you are talking on the telephone or writing in a chart. This sounds trivial, but it actually adds a lot to overall activity.  If you are somewhere you won’t be embarrassed, add some squats or lunges while you are talking.

Have active post-call “team meetings”. Instead of meeting for a “beverage” at a restaurant (or other establishment), go play Frisbee in the park (beverages allowed).  (Picture from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_disc)

10 simple ways to increase your physical activity – obesitypanacea.com

Increasing daily activity – American Heart Association

Exercise at work – about.com

You Can Exercise Even if You are on Call

One of the great fallacies about working out is that you need to “go somewhere” to work out.  This idea that working out is separate from the rest of your life is the main reason people don’t work out.  Be creative – there are lots of ways to work out that don’t require much and can be done in the hospital.  There are days on call and then there are days on call (everyone who has done it knows what I am talking about).  On the days that have a little “breathing room” here are some ways to work out while you are at work.

Cardio options

  1. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  There are good data that 3 sessions of 10 minutes of cardio has the same result as a 30 minute cardio session.  Those 2-3 minute “sessions” of going from floor to floor will add up to 20-30 minutes easily by the end of the day.  Or, if you want to push it a bit, add a few flights (or minutes) here and there.  You can always find 10 minutes (or 20, if the day permits) and really climb the stairs.
  2. Take a jump rope to the hospital and keep it in the call room
  3. Find out if there is a stress test lab or PT area in the hospital that has stationary bikes or treadmills that you can use.
  4. Go for a walk.  If it’s safe, and your beeper and cell phone permit, walk outside the hospital.  If not, do “power rounds” on the floors for exercise (do the circuit of each floor, climb the stairs to the next floor and continue).
  5. Talk your program into paying for a used bike or treadmill.
  6. Commute to work on your feet or on a bicycle (more on that later…)

Strength training options

  1. Buy a set of stretch bands or inflatable (with water) dumbbells and throw them into your on-call bag.  You can get a good strength training workout with these.
  2. Cheap dumbbells are easy to find.  For $20-30, you can put a pair or two  in the call room or resident lounge.  See if there are other residents that want to go in with you to buy a complete set.  Of course, you will have to find a way to lock them up if, like most hospitals, things have a habit of walking away.
  3. Old fashion calesthenics (push-ups, squats, etc) will provide a good strength workout , too. You might consider one of the many popular DVD based programs that are making the rounds (no pun intended) at the moment.

Flexibility training

Stretching can be done anywhere, anytime.  Like weight training, there are some good tips that can be taught by a pro.  Make sure if you hire a personal trainer that you ask them to give you some tips about stretching, too.  There are also excellent books on stretching.  You might think about web based or DVD yoga sessions as another alternative.

The key concept here is that working out during call is doable – and will often help with fatigue, stress and the feeling of being overworked.  These “workouts” don’t have to be long – even 10 minutes will help.