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5 best ways to stay in shape when returning to work

Two years ago I was a gym junkie. I had my go-to classes for each day of the week and knew the precise time I had to leave the office to get there in time.

But there was such a cloud of stress surrounding my fitness routine. Feeling limited to the few options on the schedule, sprinting from the office to make it on time, rushing out afterwards to catch a train so I could get home at a reasonable enough hour to still make dinner — nothing about my workouts felt like self-care.

Today, I have the luxury of still squeezing in a morning workout if I snooze through my alarm, taking a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood at lunchtime, and popping into any type of class I want at the end of the workday. I never feel the need to skip out of the cool down stretch since my life is right outside the door — an hour commute doesn’t stand between me and my obligations at home — and exercising doesn’t mean choosing fitness over my family, a healthy diet or time with friends.

Because working remotely has allowed exercise to become a seamless part of my routine, instead of something I have to rearrange my schedule for, I am in the best shape of my life. Not only that, I’m finally getting the mental health benefits from exercise that my old (stressful) workout routine never afforded me.

So to be frank: I’m worried about returning to the office. What will returning to normal do to my new fitness routine that has provided such positive results?

“I think with people working remotely, they have been able to look at their lives with more discernment, and have been able to carve out time to work out, time for self-care, and have recognized the importance of personal care,” psychotherapist Kathryn Smerling told TODAY. “I feel as though people have been able to reprioritize and look at their lives with more distance and perspective than they were prior to the pandemic.”

Sydney Miller, an instructor at SoulCycle and founder of Housework, an on-demand and live-streaming workout class, observed this shift in people’s mindset firsthand.

“I’ve seen so many clients get in the best shape of their lives. I’ve seen people wearing a sports bra and shorts for the first time ever because they feel so confident in their skin and never previously did,” Miller told TODAY. “I have clients who used to not be ‘workout people’ and would only go to the gym once in a while who are now die-hard Housework fans and come every single day.”

She’s seen the positive changes in herself as well. “By staying at home I’ve been able to drink more water, get more rest, and ultimately have more energy to perform better in my classes,” she said. “I also love the fact that I don’t waste time in transit going from class to class — that time adds up. It allows me the freedom to spend more time working through new workouts and spending more time talking to clients than I did in the past when I was constantly rushing.”

Miller also said that the virtual aspect of working out from home has allowed people the confidence and time to cultivate deeper relationships — which ultimately holds them more accountable. “I think that the digital side of things makes one-on-one communication a little bit less intimidating for clients and they feel safer to connect with me and other clients in class,” she said. “I’ve had people who had taken my in-person classes for years but never actually had a one-on-one conversation with me until things went digital. These relationships ultimately help clients feel more accountable to themselves and their health goals, and therefore they’ve seen the results they’ve been looking for for years.”

So what happens now that we all have to dust off our business casual attire and head back to the office?

Having to get into the groove of a new routine is inevitable, but there are some things we can do to ensure that our fitness routine doesn’t suffer in the process.

Here are five ways to keep fitness a priority as we return to working in an office.

  1. Exercise in the morning. “Morning classes are the way to go if you can swing it,” said Miller. “It gets the workout out of the way so that no matter what comes up at work or after work, you know you got it in at home all before your day even started.”
  2. Keep it virtual during the week. “Sticking to at-home workouts during the week makes them more accessible, more affordable and easier to stick to — and ultimately change comes from consistency,” said Miller. Take advantage of less hectic weekend schedules to try out that new boutique studio or meet friends in person for a yoga class.
  3. Schedule your workouts. Even if you plan to continue working out at home, schedule your workouts as if you were exercising at the gym. “Sign up for your digital Zoom classes in advance and make them a part of your schedule so that you treat them just like you treated boutique classes you need to sign up for,” said Miller. “If you’re using an app, put it on your calendar and stick to the times you commit to.”
  4. Remember that all movement counts. I may not be able to walk my dog during lunch anymore, but that walk from the subway to the office is back on the schedule. It’s important to remember that all movement counts, not just that 45 minutes we spend exercising. The upside of getting back to the office is that all those daily movements that we lost when working from home are back. So take advantage of those opportunities: park further from your office building, take the stairs instead of the elevator and ask your co-worker if they’d like to make that afternoon catch-up a walking meeting.
  5. Connect with like-minded people. “As people return to normal, with our busy schedules, it’s important to continue those practices that they found with the extra time to focus on their self-care,” said Smerling. This tip applies whether you found sobriety, started a yoga practice or made healthy cooking a habit during the pandemic. “Find people who have like minds, reach out to them and connect. That will help you maintain those newly acquired habits in a positive way,” said Smerling.