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Healthy Balance

Gym Woes? 10-Minute Office Workouts Shed Pounds

If you work a desk job, you know the feeling: You get off work on a cold, dark winter evening, and the last thing you feel like doing is going to the gym.

But you sit down most of the day. And we all know — if you don’t exercise, you’ll run the risk of having:

  • Weight gain
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Some cancers

What’s an office worker to do?

Exercise at Your Desk

“Our bodies are made to move, and the more opportunity we give them to do that, the happier they are,” says Jolene Bodily, a registered dietitian at UVA-WorkMed, a UVA occupational medicine clinic that teaches working people about health, exercise and nutrition.

WorkMed’s goal? To get you out of your seat during the day. How?

With “sparks,” 10-minute bursts of exercise that can get and keep you fit. Yes, you can do these sparks in professional attire within the confines of a cubicle. In fact, sometimes your desk becomes a push-up aid, and your chair, an abdominal crunch station.

Workouts at Work: Do They Work?

Yes. Evidence shows 150 minutes of exercise a week can reduce your risk of heart disease.

The research behind sparks began at UVA about 12 years ago. Exercise physiologist Glenn Gaesser realized many people didn’t have the time or motivation to do intense workouts for long periods of time several times a week. He recruited UVA employees for a study looking at the benefits of doing strength, aerobic and flexibility exercises in 15 10-minute chunks weekly.

Gaesser’s results? His subjects lost weight and improved flexibility and endurance.

“They saw impressive results in as little as three weeks,” Bodily says. “Our classes with these 10-minute sparks are modeled on his research, and we see the same results … as long as people do enough of them and do them to a level of intensity that is making their body really work.

“You don’t need to change clothes,” Bodily continues. “You don’t need special equipment. And you don’t need more than 10 minutes.”

Success: Climbing to the Top of Scott Stadium

Bodily remembers one student who didn’t lose as much weight during the six-week class as she’d hoped, although she saw improvements in strength and flexibility. But she did discover progress when she went to a UVA football game in Scott Stadium.

“She said, ‘We have season tickets, we go to every game, and we are in the very top of the top bleachers. For the first time ever, I did not have to stop and breathe on my way to the top.’ And she was ecstatic,” Bodily recalls. “The whole class broke into applause. She found there was a way to measure success that couldn’t be seen on a scale or a blood pressure cuff.”

Another success story involved a husband and wife taking the class together. Both were obese and struggled with the fitness tests they took before the class began, particularly one part that required stepping up and down for three minutes.

“The husband was just drained,” Bodily says. “I was concerned that he would choose to not come back to the classes. … But he persevered, and he and his wife attended every single class.

“At the end of the course, he came in for the follow-up fitness test with this big grin on his face. He marched up to the step test. He did the whole thing with a smile on his face. And as he finished, he was, again, exhausted. But he said, ‘I feel so much better than when I did this four weeks ago. It has made a huge difference in my life. Just knowing that I can do this now, when I could barely do it before, in only four weeks, lets me know I can do anything I set my mind to.’”

Office Workouts at Work: See for Yourself

You don’t have to work at UVA to learn sparks and other ways to stay healthy. WorkMed contracts with other Charlottesville-area organizations and can teach exercise and nutrition classes or set up programs for employees. Learn more and get contact information about UVA’s WorkMed Clinic.

Don’t live in Charlottesville? You can buy Gaesser’s book, “The Spark: The Revolutionary New Plan to Get Fit and Lose Weight — 10 Minutes at a Time,” on Amazon.

Check out these workouts for some step-by-step spark instructions:

Before you start an office workout: Bodily urges anyone starting a new exercise program to check with a doctor first.  She offers a couple of tips for playing it safe and maximizing fitness and weight loss:

  • Walking is safe for most people — but get a good pair of walking shoes.
  • Pay attention to your body. If something hurts, stop and try another exercise.
  • Focus on strength training, which increases calorie-burning muscle mass and helps your metabolic rate stay high.

Enter the Contest!

Have you tried exercising in your office or getting a workout through sparks? Tell us what works for you for a chance to win great prizes.

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