When I made the decision to become a police officer years ago, I knew that staying in shape was synonymous with the job title. It was important for me to be active in order to stay agile, healthy, and capable of doing my job to the best of my ability. As if being an officer wasn’t time consuming enough, throw weekly hours of cardio and gym time into the mix. I was happy with my routine and a career that helped keep me in shape.
Fast forward twelve years and I find myself in the middle of a global pandemic, without the uniform, and without an environment suitable for exercise motivation. As a matter of fact, I am now working out of a home office 100% of the time. Now what do I do to stay fit and active?
Using my experience, both work and exercise related, I hope to give insight and advice to anyone who is modifying or creating a “work from home” routine. Let’s not forget that working from home appears to be hanging around for much longer than anyone anticipated. Whether you work for a global giant like Microsoft or Amazon or find yourself as one-tenth of a company in which you are the newest employee by more than a decade (the latter is the current situation I find myself in), there should not be any excuses for why everyday movement can’t be incorporated into your routine.
Buyer beware…while working from home, you will likely gain weight. There always seems to be a downside to any decision that feels good to make. The flip side is, you will only gain weight IF. If your daily work routine consists of walking to the next room to sit for hours on end each day. If you do not make time to include physical activity into the everyday monotony of looking at a computer screen. If you do not make your physical and mental health a priority. It seems impossible to think that transitioning into a home office will hinder physical activity the way it does, but the irony is that taking care of oneself is usually the first thing to go for those who work where they live.
Working from home isn’t an option for police officers, and neither are sweatpants and baggy t-shirts. I remember the feeling of carrying more than 30 pounds of equipment around on my body – twelve-hour shifts, sometimes five days a week. Just walking the beat carrying that much extra weight provides the additional oomph needed for greater calorie burn and muscle building. I participated in trainings, group runs, and so called “gym dates” with coworkers to stay in shape outside of work hours. I had a routine that I loved…while it lasted.
When I decided that I no longer wanted to be a police officer, I traded the badge and gun for computers and mapping software. I began working in a research-based civilian position for a police department and I watched my schedule change as I adapted to a new normal. I no longer had the aforementioned “oomph” of foot patrol in a uniform and found myself having to find ways to stay in shape in the off hours, which required a drastic shift in my routine. Even with a two-hour round-trip commute five days a week, I still managed to find hours in my day to run, and I eventually trained for a full marathon.
Then it was time for yet another transition. The pandemic hit and working from home became my new daily reality. I quickly realized that my motivation to stay active was dwindling. I lost my everyday walk from employee parking to the building I worked in – a walk that had provided almost one mile of extra steps a day. Even the walk outside to my car ceased, and my commute became the length of my hallway.
How to Stay Active
Now that my schedule includes full-time teleworking from my residence, I would like to offer advice to help others who may be looking for tips on how to stay active. Below are five tips I have used throughout each phase of my working life to stay fit, and to enjoy the process of doing so.
- Choose something that you love – Find an activity that suits your fancy. It is important that the activity is not only fun to do, but fun to keep up with. If you find yourself dreading the task ahead of you, the rabbit hole of “I’ll just do it tomorrow” can be a deep dark precipice that will be hard to climb back out of. For example: if you don’t like running but you do enjoy the outdoors, consider strength training in an outside environment like a back deck or park area. Any type of exercise is better than no exercise, and you do not want to find yourself getting complacent and delaying your movement. Do what you enjoy, and incorporate a bit of fun in there.
- Make a list or chart – Create something to review and to hold you accountable. This has been my go-to for many years. I find it pleasing to cross off my activity once it is complete. Whether it is a set number of miles to run, or a certain number of push-ups to finish, it always feels rewarding to put a large “X” over each day the goal is accomplished. On the other side of that, there always seems to be a tinge of guilt that resonates with seeing an unfinished task from days before. A little built of guilt can be a positive motivator for the future.
- Get up and move – Activity watches have settings that alert you to get up and move after a certain amount of time. For example, Fitbit gives you a ten-minute warning if you haven’t reached 250 steps that hour. It’s been said that sitting is the new smoking, so it seems only fitting to take measures against preventable health risks. If you haven’t yet invested in one of the plethora of smart watch options, consider the cost to be an offset of the finances saved from gas, car wear and tear, business clothes, and restaurant lunches. The investment payouts are also more beneficial in the long term.
- Meal plan – Although not an exercise tip, per se, meal planning and prepping is another form of maintaining a healthy routine, and is an activity that can be done at the beginning of the week to carry you through. This helps prevent overeating when times inevitably get busy at work and the hourly “get up and move” opportunities are few and far between.
- Stick to a routine – Regardless of your preference, stick to what works best for you. Make it as enjoyable as possible, because let’s face it…there are only so many hours in the day. When one third of it is spent working, and one third of it should be spent sleeping, the rest of your time should be spent focusing on you. Not only what is important for you, but what you find enjoyable.
Having maneuvered through more than a decade of adjustments and seeing how quickly life and habits can change, I hope this will provide a “you are not alone” message for anyone finding themselves in similar shoes. Speaking of shoes… get yourself a good pair, tighten those laces, and get moving. While this world keeps turning amidst the pandemic, this doesn’t mean we have to resist the new normal. Working from home can be an exceptional opportunity. Continue to take care of yourself and embrace these changes with vigor and enthusiasm. Carpe diem; you’ve got this!