You Should Be Able to Exercise at Work Without Feeling Like a Freak

office pushups
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

By now it's no secret that sitting on your ass all day isn't doing you any favors. Not only is sitting an independent risk factor for early mortality (you know, death), but any stationary activity -- even standing -- may be detrimental to your health.

In other words, all that time you spend not moving at work, and all that time you spend not moving at home, is basically just preparing you for the eternal "not moving" activity of death.

I hate to break it to you, but death is one thing you don't really need to practice for.

The good news is that recent research from the University of Leicester found that office workers whose jobs required them to sit for long stretches could offset the negative health effects of inactivity by exercising more. And the more exercise study participants engaged in -- including scheduled exercise and general physical activity performed throughout the day -- the less likely they were to experience health consequences.

So why the hell aren't you busting out a set of squats and push-ups once an hour at work? Why aren't you taking a five-minute jog up and down the stairs at your office? Why aren't you recruiting your co-workers to do walking meetings with you?

Oh, I know why. Because apparently exercising at the office turns you into a social outcast.

Office + exercise = workplace ostracism

In a very unscientific study I performed on Facebook with my decidedly more-active-than-average friends, I posed the question, "Who's been made fun of for exercising at work?"

Wow, the hands went up.

There was one woman who was chastised for "already being too skinny," and was told, "you must have a disorder if you want to lose weight." Which, by the way, wasn't the reason she was exercising in the first place.

There was another woman who was doing a wall squat and was told by a co-worker, "Normal people sit on chairs, they don't pretend to hold up walls."

And possibly the best story, just for the mental image it conjures, was the police dispatcher doing burpees and push-ups at her desk while dispatching cops. A lieutenant caught her on camera and confronted her about it, incredulously asking, "Were you seriously working out?" When she said yes, he gave her a hard time about having "too much energy." And that's a profession that kind of requires you to be in shape!

So yeah, I'd say the collectively conditioned desire to fit in at work is a contributing factor -- although I'm sure not the only factor -- that prevents people from feeling comfortable turning their workstation into a makeshift gym. Which is a damn shame.

Build up your (mental) calluses

If the main reason you haven't tried to exercise at work is because you're self-conscious about what other people will say or think, newsflash: it doesn't matter, provided you're not in danger of losing your job, of course. In other words, you probably shouldn't start doing lunges if you're in the middle of open-heart surgery.

Making choices that affect your health based on other people's opinions is no way to live. You need to develop thicker skin and embrace the role of "quirky co-worker." Trust me, it will be OK.

But if developing a "devil may care" attitude is outside your comfort zone, try the strategy shared by one of my other "study participants" from Facebook:

Convert the crowd

Angela VanBrackle, who runs a field office for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, is actually the only employee at her location, but every month she and her co-workers participate in a workout challenge: "We set up various challenges: planks, sit-ups, and so forth, and schedule them on our calendars. This month is a sit-up challenge. When we have large, in-person meetings, we'll do the challenge together."

More offices should follow Angela's lead, because even the Scroogiest of bosses must agree that sick, unhappy, out-of-shape employees aren't the ideal workforce. It's not like you have to stock your cubicle with a Tony Little Gazelle or a set of kettlebells to increase your daily activity. Just take a five-minute break once an hour to walk around the office. Grab a few friends to do a 10-minute mini boot camp in place of your usual mid-morning break. It's a lot less weird to bust out a set of mountain climbers when you've got a group of people doing them with you. And if you keep at it, you might just become your office trendsetter.

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Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and fitness writer who owns an under-desk bicycle and isn't ashamed to admit it. Follow her on Twitter: @girlsgonesporty.