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There are ways to ease the workplace into a workout

March 23, 2009

The Client
Name: Maria
Age: 52
Title: Director, Employee benefits
Industry: Financial services
Issue: Building in exercise at work
Q. You often recommend exercise as a way to cope with stress. For me (and the team I manage), that’s easier said than done. Could you help me think through realistic ways to be more active myself, along with ways to help work it into our workplace routine without seeming to waste time or be a drill sergeant?

A. Start by thinking through ways to make changes yourself, and then consider steps to take in the workplace.

The inner game
Know your starting point. Our past attitudes about exercise influence our future choices. It may be positive, as with one client who had fun exercising with her parents. For many, it’s negative — something they should do or haven’t succeeded at. Positive attitudes inspire, while negative ones will hold you back. Becoming aware of them will help you follow through on your desired actions.

Keep it simple. Picture adding some small, doable steps into your routine. What does this vision look like? What actions would you take? It may be 10-minute walks a couple of times a day plus a stretch break in your office. Imagine how this feels, experiencing the serenity, calm, or energy that you’ll gain.

Analyze your life. From the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, you’re making choices about your time. Go through your day and think about all of the different times and ways you could be active. There are lots of resources online that can give you ideas. Then think about the barriers that could stop you and plan ways around them. Figure out what it’ll take to make activity a priority.

The outer game
Share your vision. One of the most powerful ways you can motivate your team is to set an example. Let your employees know about the changes you’re making, the benefits you hope to see, and the challenges you face.

Engage others. Make it clear that your team has your permission to follow your example and use bits of time for activity during the day. Get together and brainstorm ways to be active. Try the 10-minute burst of activity model. Celebrate your successes, and when barriers arise, solve the problem together.

Keep it light. Don’t create another source of pressure. Beware of being unintentionally coercive or insensitive. People will be at different levels of interest, readiness, or ability. Yet even someone using a wheelchair may welcome the opportunity to roll along with a group of walkers.

Follow through. Protect time on your calendar for steps like taking a short walk. Use the stairs. Park farther away so you’ll walk a little more. Away from work, do active things that you enjoy. Get away from the concept of exercise as something apart from normal life, and build the idea of yourself as an active person. As part of your daily routine, try asking yourself, “Is there a more active way to do this?” If you aren’t following through, analyze the barriers that are stopping you.

The last word
Adding more activity to your days will build a healthier, more energetic and happier team and will help all of you manage the stresses you face more effectively. 

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted March 22, 2009
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