How to Work Out At Work

Released: Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Staying in shape can sometimes feel like a full time job.  That feeling is exacerbated when you consider that many of us are running some sort of balancing act that feels like it's straight out of the circus:  40+ hour-a-week-job, a significant other and a circle of friends, holiday social engagements, shuffling kids to school events, meal prep, trying to keep your home or apartment orderly—and the list goes on.

How in the world can we possibly find time to squeeze in the 150 minutes of exercise per week that's recommended for adults by the American Heart Association?

Dr. Robert L. Newton, Jr., a researcher at Pennington Biomedical Research Center admits it isn't easy. He studies physical activity and minority health, and he says the first step to getting fit – and staying in shape – is recognizing that the equation is simple: moving equals burning calories.

Since the U.S. Dept. of Labor estimates 72 million women in the U.S. work outside the home, Newton suggests utilizing work hours to maximize time spent moving.

The first step, Newton says, is identifying times at work when you're sedentary and then trying to work in some mobility.

"If you can break up your sedentary time to no more than 60 minutes at a time, you're getting a good start. That doesn't mean you have to do sit-ups or push-ups in your cubicle, though," Newton said with a laugh. "We realize people want to avoid getting their clothes dirty by being on the floor and breaking a sweat while they're on the clock, but there are alternatives."

Newton suggests taking the time to walk to a co-worker's office instead of picking up the phone or sending an e-mail.  Taking a quick stroll around the office, or getting up to grab some coffee or a drink of water are also options.

"It doesn't have to be a lot of activity—just as long as you get up from that sitting position at least once every thirty minutes to an hour," Newton said. "If you make moving a habit, those burned calories will eventually add up. Over the short term, taking breaks reduces your glucose and insulin levels compared to standing.  Over an extended period of time, we could see cardio benefits, weight loss, and we can reduce the risk for diabetes, but these studies have not yet been conducted."

By walking, Newton says the largest muscle groups in our bodies—the legs—are activated, which increases the uptake of glucose. In contrast, if you sit too much your body produces more glucose that has nowhere to go, putting sedentary workers at a much higher risk level for obesity, diabetes, and other diseases.

According to Newton, lunch time is a prime opportunity to get quality movement in.

"If you work downtown or in an area with restaurants, walk to lunch. If you take your lunch to work, try to carve out time before or after you eat to get your heart rate up," Newton said.

The goal is moderate to vigorous activity, and Newton says you'll know you've reached that level when you're out of breath, with enough air to talk but not enough to sing.  However, even light intensity physical activity has benefits.

"If you can take three ten-minute breaks throughout your day where you are getting to this point, you've reached the recommendation for 30 minutes of moderate to physical activity for your day," Newton said.

For those of us who have entirely too much on our work plate to lose 30 minutes of work time, Newton suggests looking into a standing desk, since the simple act of standing engages the muscles in our legs and allows us to burn calories. While standing desks can be costly, Newton says even a box on top of your desk can elevate your computer monitor and keyboard.

"Of course, standing all day can create back and foot problems, so I think it's best to start standing for short periods of time and build up to longer periods," Newton said. "And even standing up to stretch throughout your day can keep you flexible and limber."

While a good heart-pumping workout is ideal, the goal is to work in exercise where you can, Newton said.

"It doesn't have to be all-or-nothing," Newton said. "If you can't make it to the gym, start small and work your way up."

For more information on how you can support this and other projects at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, visit