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  • The C-Suite Minimalists

My ups and downs with workacise

Practical tips for effectively combining work and exercise.

It all started painfully 6 months ago. It was mid-summer, I had just pulled off a great first half of the year: good results at work - check, MBA semester exams – done, 5-month online business program – passed, husband still with me - check, kid ok – check. And then one morning I woke up, got up abruptly from bed, as usual, and was struck with terrible back pain in the left shoulder, spreading all around, so terrifying that I presumed I was having a heart attack. A visit to the doctor’s assured me it was my sedentary lifestyle to blame. “All office people have this – sooner or later”, the doctor said. The excruciating pain stayed for weeks and seemed that the only way to fight it back was with moderate exercise. But who has time for exercise?

That is how the stand-up desk, the stepper, the Swiss ball, and the two sets of dumbbells came to my office. As an aspiring C-Suite Minimalist, aiming to improve my performance and productivity by doing better, with less, I thought I had found the exercise nirvana with workacise – a corporate buzzword, meaning to work out while working. Half a year later I am writing this text from my comfortable chair in front of the standing desk, put back to a regular desk level, dumbbells not in eyesight, the stepper and the Swiss ball - somewhat lonely in a corner. What did I learn from this experience that can be beneficial to you, my honourable reader?

Lesson 1: Extremes are unsustainable

Starting from the obvious, if you are going to do a full-fledged exercise routine in your office, you will need a shower and clean clothes. For instance the famous 7-minute workout, featured in New York Times and numerous other media outlets, promises great results. Moreover, you can literally do it anywhere. But it will surely break you a sweat. I don’t have a shower in my office, do you? Strike one.

Second, one’s aptitude towards lifting dumbbells during meetings, walking the stepper alongside a conference call, or standing by a standing desk for hours while reviewing an important document, diminishes in time. Especially in a busy season. It is physically exhausting to stay up all the time, let alone to concentrate. Strike two.

Three, people are social animals and office culture matters to sustain a habit of exercising while working. If you regularly see someone on the next desk dropping for a few push-ups or doing jumping jacks, you are more likely to engage in similar activity. Talk about “nudge” exercising, a reference to the behavioural science that got the “nudge” economist Richard Thaler the Nobel prize. On the other end, one cannot push people too much to do something they don’t feel like doing. I work with smart, good people, who are not shy of getting out of their comfort zones. But I tried to organise regular stand-up meetings for our weekly planning rounds. “The famous Stanford Professor Robert Sutton, the author of the bestseller “Good boss, bad boss” says that stand-up meetings are good for the heart and much more productive”, I told our team enthusiastically several times. We tried. They couldn’t care less. Stand-up weekly meetings are now history. But despair not! I often see now colleagues doing a quick stand-up one-to-ones so in the end, it did not all go down the drain. The lesson here is that pushing too much can lead to the opposite effect. Strike three.

Lesson 2: The pros are undeniable

Sedentary lifestyle comes on top as a cause of so many diseases, from cancers to heart attacks, that it is not in our benefit to behave like an ostrich covering our head in the sand in front of the danger. Keeping a few dumbbells in the office and using them during long conference calls, or just giving them a quick 2-3 minute lift once in a while works better than a cup of coffee. And can have lasting good effects for our health and longevity.

I know about a CEO that every Wednesday invites a different employee to have a walking meeting and discuss current topics for the company. Women never wear high heels on a Wednesday in that company, because they want to be prepared in comfortable shoes if the invite comes to them that week.

Being active during the day, researchers say, have positive effects on the mood too. Good mood is known to be a boost to productivity.

Lesson 3: The golden mean is finding your personal balance

Wikipedia tells us that in ancient Greek philosophy the golden mean is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency.

Workacise is not a panacea, nor a substitute for other forms of exercise. It is in fact a complement. In basic economics, when one product or service is a complement to another, the increased demand for one leads to an overall rise of the demand for the other. Without over-promising, this could mean that starting a few exercises in the office may be the trigger to finally start using the annual gym membership bought on 2nd of January, or finally taking for a run those cool trendy sneakers that you bought a couple of months ago.

After all, any crappy exercise is better than no exercise at all. And now please excuse me, the Swiss ball is waiting for my crunches.

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