Making Healthy Choices Outside Your Home
Ali Othman, NSCA-CPT®
While some jobs remain remote indefinitely, a lot of people have been called back to the office. Remote working provided certain conveniences that people became accustomed to. Within fifteen minutes of shutting down your computer, you could be at the park powerwalking or in your living room enjoying a virtual kickboxing session. For many, the time savings from remote working opened the door to a new world of ideas and opportunities. Nowadays, fifteen minutes after leaving the office, you’re stuck behind a line of cars waiting for a freight train to crawl past. It’s going to take some extra motivation to keep your exercise routine from derailing. However, people are resilient and can easily adapt to the environment of the hour. Check the clock because, believe it or not, going back to the office gives you lots of opportunities for physical activity throughout the day.
Activity and exercise are two different aspects of a healthy lifestyle that are sometimes confused with one another. Movement of your muscles and musculoskeletal system requires energy, or calories. Simply put, this movement is activity. Movement against resistance or steady and prolonged movement requires more energy than raising your hand or standing from a seated position. All of these different movements burn calories, and of course, the more strenuous the activity, the more calories are required to fuel the movement. Therefore, the more active you are throughout the day, the more calories you burn. Take any chance you have to be active over sedentary, and throughout the day, it will add up to a noticeable difference.
Exercise, on the other hand, is a category of physical activity. It’s structured and planned, it’s repetitive, and for many, it’s ritualistic. It is not just the workout but also your pre- and post-workout hydration and nutrition that can be part of the ritual that keeps you on track. When you exercise, you keep a goal in your sights, and you spend each session working towards that goal. A well-rounded combination of activity throughout the day, along with regular exercise, will produce the best physical fitness results.
Armed with this information, that parking spot at the back of the lot may not look so bad. A stair climb to the third floor seems more reasonable than an elevator ride, especially while social distancing. Start taking full advantage of your situational surroundings. A twenty-minute walk around the neighborhood after lunch is a great way to ward off the sleepiness that hits in the early afternoon. Depending on your geographical location, the early autumn evenings may be a lovely time to do anything outdoors. Summer mornings are also a special time of the year for getting some sun without suffering through intense heat.
Commuting to work decreases your free time throughout the day; there’s no way to argue against that. However, it doesn’t need to hinder your fitness plan. If you work close enough to home and the route allows it, a bicycle ride to and from your office can be a good option. Wake up late one day to get the cardio session of a lifetime! Or, plan a route that allows you to stop at the gym during the heaviest period of rush-hour traffic, and spend that time working off the stress from your daily grind instead of adding to it. After thirty minutes of exercise, you can be back on the road enjoying a smooth ride home.
You can also open your mind to new types of exercise while exploring the health and fitness culture near your home and office. Instead of the usual yoga studio, check out a powerlifting gym or trampoline park. During the summer, try substituting the eau de “locker room” for some fresh air and sunshine by stopping at a hiking trail or park. Keep yourself interested, and finish your activity and exercise before arriving home and getting hit with your usual distractions.
Besides your exercise and activity, going back to the office will undoubtedly change your diet as well. Remote working made it easy to eat a hot, fresh meal three times a day. Now your options are limited, and temptation is real. Plan to pack your lunches, but know that sometimes there just isn’t enough time. So, while exploring the fitness culture, keep your eyes peeled for places with healthy menu items for those days you weren’t able to pack your lunch.
Meal prepping can be a great way to fight that lunchtime or mid-shift craving for fast food or sweets. There is no gold standard for meal prepping. It can be anything from cooking in larger volumes and parceling meals into their storage containers for the week to planning each meal’s nutritive needs based on that day’s expected activity. Start by deciding what meals and how many you want to prepare. Breakfast and dinner may both be eaten at home, so five lunches are needed for the workweek. You’ll eventually learn which ingredients reheat well and which ones are best eaten fresh as you experiment with different cuisines.
Think about how many calories you want to consume, what portion sizes you want, and how to store, transport, heat (if needed), and eat the meals. Then figure out what type of prepping will be best for you. A few of the common ways to meal prep include:
Packed in sealed storage containers, cooked foods generally last four to seven days in the refrigerator. However, a lot of different factors determine a meal’s shelf life. The age and type of ingredient, refrigeration temperature, exposure to air, and even the length of time between cooking and cooling can affect an ingredient’s quality and the taste of your lunch. Invest in some high-quality containers, and use a combination of refrigeration and freezing for the best result.
When prepping meals, consider the USDA’s food guidance system MyPlate. Half your plate should be fruits and vegetables. They’re low in sodium, calories, and fat and packed with healthy dietary essentials. Eat more whole grains like oats, brown rice, and whole wheat flour, and consume less refined grains like white flour and white rice. Vary your vegetable and protein sources, as each has its own macronutrient profile and benefit to the body. Dairy doesn’t hold a spot on the MyPlate plate; instead, it sits in a small bowl or side dish next to the plate. Nevertheless, it’s an important food group. Dairy, or a fortified vegan substitute, is an important supply of calcium, vitamin D, protein, and potassium. A lot of Americans don’t consume enough dairy, so when it’s presented as an option, say yes, but make it a healthier low-fat choice.
Lunch is typically around five to six hundred calories, but don’t limit yourself to these numbers. If your job is physically demanding or outdoors in the sun or humidity, you may need twice as many calories as the average person to carry you through the second half of your day. On the other hand, if your job mostly involves sitting at a desk, a six hundred calorie lunch can be the perfect recipe for an afternoon nap. One of the hidden benefits of cooking, prepping, and packing your lunch is the security that comes with not having to decide your lunch menu on the fly. Becoming your own personal chef will naturally lead you to make better ingredient choices, and you can tailor your eating habits to your needs or cravings. If one meal isn’t enough fuel for a day’s work, supplement that meal with some high-quality snacking.
Cutting back on snacking may happen naturally since you won’t be close to the pantry, but if you love to snack, make that part of your prep. Use your snacks as an opportunity to sneak a little extra dairy into your diet. Yogurt is a great source of protein and fat that can carry you through to your next meal. Fruits and vegetables are easy to process in bulk and store in containers as a light snack between lunch and dinner. Sometimes it’s difficult to take in the recommended amount of each macronutrient through three daily meals. In these instances, snacks provide the perfect opportunity to supplement your diet.
Being back in the office among your coworkers presents an opportunity to find an exercise partner who can keep you accountable as you do the same for them. They can also be supportive at mealtimes when temptation is at its highest and encourage you to be active throughout the day if you get stuck at your desk for too long. Employers want their people to stay as healthy as possible. That could mean that incentives for exercise or fitness membership reimbursements become more common in the workplace. Looking towards the future, the safest way for a company to promote a culture of health and fitness might be within its doors. Fitness spaces in the office can offer a safe place to exercise, build a culture of encouragement, and help turn an office into a team. If there isn’t room in the budget or enough real estate for a fixed space, traveling personal trainers can bring the equipment and enthusiasm with them and set up anywhere that space allows.
Create opportunities for physical activity throughout the day, and manage your nutrition by planning and prepping your meals to help make healthy choices when you return to the workplace.
Ali Othman is an NSCA-certified personal trainer with over a decade of experience in the health and wellness industry. He also works in the Technical Department at IFANCA® and manages IFANCA business activities in South Korea.