Stressed for Success?

If you don’t have time to work out, how can you stay healthy and fit? For the typical overstressed professional, scheduling small bits of relaxation exercise — deep breathing, guided meditation, stretching or walking — makes the work day more productive and improves overall physical and mental health.

Anne Stein, M.S.
Sports & Fitness Journalist/Author

The only way that Gregory Florez, CEO of Fit Advisor Health Coaching and spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, could get a stressed-out tax accountant to relax was this: On the last ten minutes of his drive home, the accountant would pull over and listen to a CD that took him through five minutes of deep breathing and relaxation exercises.

“We coaxed him to try it for 21 days,” says Florez, “and he was hooked.” The meditation helped the accountant slough off the day’s stress and prepared him to enjoy his family. After a few weeks he was happier, more productive and sleeping better than ever.

The accountant is typical of many of Florez’s overworked corporate clients these days. They’ve got gym memberships, personal trainers, and the latest workout gadgets, but no time to use any of it.

If you can’t make it to the gym because you’re overbooked, Florez suggests scheduling short sessions of deep breathing, stretching, meditation, walking, or other simple exercise into the work day.

“Everyone in the workforce is working significantly longer hours and days,” says Florez, who helps executives create more manageable lives. “They purchase the goods and services with all good intentions, but with busy schedules, exercise is the first thing that falls off the map. It only reappears if they lose their jobs or they develop a lifestyle-related health condition that can kill them, like hypertension or diabetes.”

Find ten minutes, twice a day, three to four times a week, where you can incorporate some sort of relaxation or exercise practice. “Schedule it and protect it with the same rigidity you do for a business meeting,” Florez says.

Use an iPhone app or online program to guide you through meditation or breathing exercises, or keep portable exercise equipment (a yoga mat, dumb bells or bands) under your desk – you don’t have to change to stretch and do simple yoga poses or strength work in your own office.

If your week is packed with meetings, schedule some as walking meetings. Get out in the light and air and take a handheld recorder if needed. “Moving the body stimulates you and you’ll be able to concentrate better afterwards,” says Florez. “We weren’t made to sit in a conference room eight hours a day.”

Sleeping longer and eating better are also essential to good health. After 8 p.m., don’t watch the news or read anything work related. Get the Blackberry out of the bedroom, which should be reserved for sleep, leisure reading and sex only, says Florez. Have a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as ten minutes of yoga, a bubble bath with candles or a hot shower to signal the body that it’s time to shut down and recuperate.

Eat more healthful food at work. Moderate your blood sugar and your mood with healthy, non-sugary snacks like fresh fruit, dried fruit and unsalted nuts that you keep at your desk. Get up and stretch instead of downing a donut or soda when you’re tired mid afternoon.

Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Get up, get outside, and at the very least, walk around your building a few times or down the block to trigger the hormonal and biochemical changes that come from moving your body.

When starting your new, healthy routine, don’t bite off more than you can chew. While incorporating five- to ten-minute chunks of meditation or walking into your workday doesn’t sound like much, engaging in these manageable and time-efficient activities will lead to bigger and better things. Saying that you’ll leave by 5 p.m. to get to the gym three times a week and then not doing it is self defeating.

“You’ll find that what starts with a spark will grow much bigger if you commit to three weeks,” says Florez. “This isn’t about losing five pounds – it’s much bigger than that. It’s about improving relationships with friends and family, your ability to sleep, being higher functioning and being more efficient.”

What’s at stake is your life, Florez says, from work productivity to personal relationships. “People are doing more with less and you have to be more on your game. Your body’s an integral part of all that.”

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