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Is Your Active Job Active Enough?

15251-a-young-woman-stretching-outdoors-before-exercising-pvDo you have a job that requires you to be on your feet all day? Are you constantly walking back and forth, racking up those 10,000 steps, or more, that you have heard we should be hitting each day? If so, there is good news for you.

Studies done by the Mayo Clinic have shown that prolonged sitting significantly increases our risk of developing cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer. One doctor likened sitting to the “new smoking” in terms of the potential health risks associated with it. Though your feet may be sore by the end of the day, in the long run, racking up those steps is benefitting you.

That being said, even for professions that require hours of standing or walking, we still see a great number of workers with health issues. Shouldn’t all that activity be enough to offset health risks?

This is a conversation I have frequently with clients who are working on improving their fitness. When I ask how many days they exercise in a typical week, they tell me every day. They stress the time spent at work on their feet, and some tell me how many steps they are earning on their step trackers. This is important; they are already ahead of the game health-wise by not being sedentary. However, it is often not enough to achieve significant health or fitness gains.

The issue here lies in how we define exercise. In order for us to reap all the benefits of exercise, we must push ourselves beyond our body’s normal capacity. If we relate this to walking, this means walking at a pace which raises our heart rate above its normal rate, making us at least a bit out of breath and working up a little bit of sweat. It also means keeping us at this stage for a prolonged duration of time. The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition (fitness.gov) suggests that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week, done in intervals at least 10 minutes in length, as sessions less than 10 minutes do not reap the same benefits. It is also recommended that adults do strength-training exercises, such as push-ups, sit-ups or lifting weights, at least twice a week.

So how do you know if you are exercising at a moderate intensity? One simple way to assess is to take the “talk test”. While you are moving, if you can still talk, but not sing, you are probably in the moderate zone. A more scientific way is to monitor your heart rate. When exercising, you want to increase your heart rate to 60-85% of its maximum. Calculate this for yourself with the following equation:

1. 220-your age = your maximum heart rate. You do not need your heart rate to exceed this number during exercise.

2. Take your maximum heart rate and multiply that number by .60. For most healthy individuals, this is the number you should not go below when exercising in order to reap the benefits.

3. Take your maximum heart rate and multiply that number by .85. For most healthy individuals, this is the number you don’t want to exceed.

Generally speaking, working somewhere around 65-75% of your heart rate maximum is a moderate intensity level. However, if you are new to fitness, you may want to start at about 50% and work your way up over time. It is best to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program or if you are taking any medications which may affect your heart rate.

The next time you are moving on the job, pay attention to your body. Is your heart rate up? Are you breathy or sweating a bit? If not, that work-related activity may not be providing you with as many health benefits as a more challenging workout could. Appreciate the health benefits that your active job brings you, and then decide how you can incorporate more rigorous activity into your life to take your fitness to the next level.

Image: CDC/Amanda Mills acquired from Public Health Image Library

Diane Foenssler, NASM CPT, NASM CES Manager, Engagement Specialist

Diane Foenssler, NASM CPT, NASM CES
Manager, Engagement Specialist

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