QUESTION: “Hi Dr. Neal! I have been listening to your podcasts for about 3 years, and it's made such an impact on my life and the people around me. Thank you for taking the time to do all your research to help educate us and improve our overall well-being. With that being said, I do have a 2-fold question. What workouts do you recommend for someone who works on their feet 12-14 hours a day, 5 days a week? And should we take it easy and just rest during our two days off after standing all day most days? I have tried to implement workouts throughout my week, even if it's for only 30 minutes, but there are days where I can feel my body hit exhaustion, but I still want to be in good shape and be strong. Thank you again for all you do!”
Thank you for taking the time to send in your question.
And thank you so much for listening to the show and for your kind words. I’m thrilled that you find the show so helpful.
Structured vs. Unstructured Activity
I actually get this question quite often. I’ll start with the good news first.
The fact that you’re standing all day and on your feet moving for most of the day means that you’re already ahead of the game. Meaning, most of us have sedentary jobs. You know, jobs that require us to sit in front of a screen most of the day. I include myself in this list, by the way.
So, the fact that you’re on your feet for 12 or more hours a day means you’re getting way more regular activity than the majority of Americans.
Here’s the not so great news: what you’re describing is what we refer to as “unstructured activity.” Meaning, you’re not moving for a structured period of time consistently. Instead, you’re moving when the job calls for it. Other times, you may be standing or seated.
Plus, the aim of all of this movement isn’t to necessarily improve your cardiovascular fitness or muscular endurance. It’s to make sure that your job gets done.
Please know that I completely understand the fatigue you must feel after spending over 12 hours on your feet. But, at some point, the body gets used to this.
On the other hand, structured activity is performed with the aim of improving fitness. It’s time dedicated to making your heart and lungs stronger and your muscles bigger.
Activity Guidelines for Adults
Earlier this week, I talked about how most health agencies recommend that adults participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week. Remember, moderate intensity physical activity means your breathing rate will increase – you can have a conversation, but you couldn’t sing.
Think, brisk walking or a light jog. We have to ask, “Does this happen regularly when you’re working?” If not, it means we have to carve out some time each week to get that heart and breathing rate up. If you want to cut that time down to 75 minutes, you could amp up the intensity.
Vigorous intensity activity means that you’re working at an intensity that makes it difficult to talk. Think, running, walking briskly or jogging up a hill, sprinting, skipping rope, or rowing, bicycling, or swimming at a fast pace.
To really balance things out, it’s a good idea to dedicate a couple of days per week to resistance training to strengthen not only your muscles, but your bones as well. Not to overwhelm in any way but tossing in some stretching every now and then would be the icing on the exercise cake.
That metaphor doesn’t really work here…but you get the idea.
On Days Off
To the listener asking this question today, you mentioned that on some of your days off, you spend about 30 minutes working out. This is great.
But, as you also mentioned, there may be some days that you simply need the rest. The most important thing when deciding whether or not you need some R&R or it’s time to put on those running shoes is to be honest with yourself.
Are you truly physically exhausted, or are you mentally or emotionally exhausted? Mental and emotional exhaustion can sometimes present as physical exhaustion. But, in these cases, participating in some structured physical activity can help relieve mental and emotional exhaustion.
If you’re truly physically exhausted, then yes, listen to your body and take it easy.
Remember that taking it easy doesn’t mean relaxing on the couch binge watching Money Heist.
Instead, it could mean a moderately-paced walk. If you’re feeling a bit more energized, and you have 30 minutes to spare, see if you can amp up the intensity of your workout.
This will make those 30 minutes more efficient.
Exercising after Standing All Day: The Bottom Line
So, here’s the deal: when you’re used to spending most of your time standing all day on your feet, it can be difficult to find the energy to participate in structured physical activity. But, it’s still important to find the time and muster up the energy to do so for improved fitness.