Why it’s not (usually) enough to just work physically

There seems to be two types of workers in the world those that sit for their jobs and everyone else. Almost all of the jobs I’ve done are more physical than office work. I’ve worked in a lab and taught which is pretty much just standing. But I’ve also worked as a waitress, lifeguard, hotel maid, landscaper and in construction. Save for a few days or weeks here and there that has never really been enough movement for me to be optimally healthy or maybe even meet healthy exercise guidelines. Now if you do work physically that doesn’t mean you don’t reap a lot of benefits from that but I would argue that at least a few times a week you need to move on purpose. So you do get to focus more on things you love at convenient times.

This is partly based on my experience and government guidelines and those of my immediate family that basically all do physical work. Truthfully most days our work isn’t quite enough to close the rings on my apple watch most of the year. I’m lucky as a tradesperson that we do new things all the time. Right now we’re on a full remodel of three small rooms and I’m really spending a lot of time sitting. Other times I’m walking heavy wet pressure treated lumber up a hill for hours a day. Those rare weeks I am getting ‘enough’ movement at work I would argue I still should be working out for the following reasons.

We tend to overestimate how much we move

Here’s the big one we all have a tendency to think we are taking more steps, climbing more flights and carrying more than we actually are. Just because you’re tiered doesn’t necessarily mean you moved enough today. About half of people that think they are getting 30 minuets of vigorous movement 3 times a week and walking 10, 000 steps a day actually aren’t. If you’re curious I encourage you to get a fitness tracker. Basic fit bits and used apple watches are pretty cheap and once you get one they are strangely motivating to move more. I’ll bet even if you have an active job you’re not quite as active as you think.

But is it vigorously active work for 30 minuets?

A basic good quality workout is vigorous activity and at least 30 minutes long. Vigorous will vary from person to person but its usually in the realm of if you can still talk you really don’t want to. When I carry stuff up hill I then turn around and stroll down the hill, I might even sit for a bit at one end. I might load the truck and unload it at the dump but that’s about half an hour of sitting each way. For me carrying a bag of concrete is a task at nearly half my body weight. For honey or his much younger sons it’s not such a challenge. Shoveling gravel is akin to torture but mulch is a relaxing evening.

Even if you move a lot and get out of breath at work on the regular that doesn’t necessarily add up to a great quality workout. Fitness trackers usually are set to record  a minute movement once you’ve been moving for 2 minutes with an elevated pulse. All that movement that does add up to something in your day and in your life and you will certainly be healthier for it but … it does fall short of a focused workout. Even if you are getting ‘enough’ consistent movement at work there are still some reasons to work out every week.

Overuse injuries from repetitive strain

I’m pretty lucky that the outfit I work for does lots of really different things and we change it up pretty regularly. Some trades do the same movements day after day after day. Add handedness into that and it gets even worse. I’m thinking even about building wharfs which has more variation than some jobs but there is an awful lot of lifting heavy things over and over and pulling on other stuff that just doesn’t want to move. This can lead to muscle imbalances over time and injuries. Even if you don’t really care about health and fitness these issues can take you away from work and limit your income.

What ever workout you choose to do (running, lifting or yoga to name a few) pretty much always you’re working both sides of your body evenly and you work both sets of muscles in a group. So getting moving on purpose outside work means that you might be preventing on the job injuries too. If you are prone to injuries, niggles or already have a bad joint you can even find a workout to help heal that. Talk to your doctor or physiotherapist for recommendations. 

Where’s the cardio

As much good as lifting, stretching, walking and climbing is for you movement at work is not likely to involve any real cardio. In order to get all the benefits of movement in your life some of it will have to be sustained activity in your target heart rate zone. I’m honestly at a loss outside professional athlete or run coach where you get to do cardio at work. Cardio is particularly important for all those things everyone wants more of. Things like heart health, longer lives, health in old age and fewer respiratory issues. It’s also pretty great at weight control and mental health resilience. You could ride your bike, go for a vigorous walk, run or swim a few laps and get the best of both worlds.

Appreciation for what your body can do

Moving for work is well work. It’s not always something you want to do and it always seems like you’re falling behind. Your muscles can burn, your joints and back can get achey and sometimes you have to ask for help. You start thinking things like “how much longer will I be able to keep this up,” and some days even wonder if it’s getting time for a career change. I’m often the least strong person on site and certain jobs others will often have to do for me. All that alone could add up to me feeling less than. But here is the thing… I’m actually hella strong and mostly from the work I do. But… it’s the things I do for fitness and that body confidence that makes me realize it. When you’re working and moving it really can feel like your body only works against you. 

When you also move your body just for the fitness aspect of it you start to realize how amazing your body really is. On day one when you walk into a gym to lift you’ll be doing reps no one else could do on their first day. Your running speed will be top notch in record time and your balance in yoga is probably out of this world for an intro class. Those feelings carry over into work too and you feel less dejected when you have to put something down and take a break. In some ways if you’re just getting fit at work you’re getting only the hard stuff with none of the rewards. Don’t believe me pick a challenge, crush it and see how that makes you feel!

Moving at work is great and you’ll get a lot of health benefits your mostly sedentary counterparts just aren’t going to with that alone. You’ll already be healthier, have a more moderate body weight and less health issues because of it. But I’m just saying if you really want to feel, look and be as happy and healthy as you can be you really should get moving out side work on the regular too! If you have an active job do you workout besides that? What ‘regular’ job could have you doing cardio at work because I’m honestly stumped? The only person I can think of is my cycling company owner/yoga teacher, but that’s not very regular is it. Leave your thoughts in the comments below! 

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