My job responsibilities involve a lot of physical labor. In some ways, I count this as exercise. Exercise is, after all, a process of using the physical body in a way that builds strength and stamina. Yard work to care for my acre or vacuuming a 3800 square foot home is going to do that.
The trouble is that the physical labor of a job tends to be
- irregular in terms of exertion or schedule; or
- repetitive and unbalanced in type of motion, often predisposing a person to injury.
For instance, someone who works in construction will probably use the dominant arm in a particular direction most of the time. This might be due to utilizing specific tools. Specialization of jobs is more time efficient and leads to individual expertise, but is also likely to lead to strain in particular body parts. Someone who works as a nurse may never know when she will be asked to help lift a larger patient from bed to gurney.
A regular, non-job exercise routine can do a few important things. I will list some, and expound on them afterward:
1. Strengthen specific areas to counter balance overuse and potential injury.
2. Provide a consistent base of strength that can be more readily relied upon.
3. Help relieve job related stress by allowing a more thorough out pouring of energy.
4. Be more fun, as you can choose activities based on personal preference.
5. Prepare you to enjoy vacation and free time more, because you have to specific strength to do the things you want to.
6. Be more flexible to help you stay active in spite of injury, strains of individual body parts, or weather issues.
7. Keep you in the mode of maintaining physical capabilities even when the job activities vary.
8. Be more social, since it is not limited to who you work with or what you need to be doing.
Working to strengthen an area that is used repeatedly in a job may seem counter intuitive. However, what it often involved is targeting the muscles of the opposite direction of the repetitive motion. When I was carrying toddlers around all the time, I usually carried them on my left hip to leave my right hand free for tasks. This resulted in a lingering strain in my right wrist. I was able to remedy this and prevent further injury by following the advice of my husband: do regular full range of motion wrist exercises with light weights.
An overall, balanced strengthening of the body likewise guards against injury. Having basic core strength will make it less likely that one or two specific regions will be stressed by a load or motion. For instance, if attention is given to strengthening the whole leg, then all of those muscles will engage more readily even when the knee is the main joint being used, giving much more support to the joint. In another example, if the foot muscles are used regularly, the ankles aren’t being asked to be a point of balance that they are not designed for.
Job related exertion is often associated with deadlines and, ironically, restrictions of how much energy is approved because of what is deemed appropriate for the environment or the task. The tension means that breathing is probably not as free and stress hormones inhibit relaxation. Range of motion is usually not fully used, nor is a person free to enjoy a final spurt of exertion. Exercise that you are free to follow through to complete desire and capability relaxes both body and mind.
Even if you like some parts of your job, chances are that a lot of your time is dictated by necessary tasks that would not be your choice of fun. There are many types of fun exercise to choose from and there is no need for non-job related exercise to be just another drudgery. If you don’t like some of the old standbys like running or swimming, try something like dancing or racquetball.
Vacation and yearly seasons provide opportunities for fun activities that cannot be safely or fully enjoyed if the body is weak and vulnerable. If you want to go surfing on your vacation, but live 500 miles inland, you will be wise to find an exercise that uses some of the same muscles and skills, as well as work on overall strength and safety skills (i.e. swimming) so that the experience will not be fraught with exhaustion and peril. Or at least, less of those. If you want to go hiking in the summer, some sort of regular walking or running schedule during the other seasons is to your advantage.
Inconveniences such as inclement weather or unexpected injury happen to everyone. Stamina and overall strength can be maintained if you have more than one type of exercise to enjoy and keep you basically fit. This same variety can also help avoid injury since you give specific body parts turns to rest.
Most jobs vary in daily and even seasonal requirements. A habit of regular, non-job related exercise will not only help you be ready for the more active times on the job, but will keep you strong during those lulls, for your own enjoyment and well-being. You may need to take your job related efforts into account when making your exercise choices, in order to keep a balanced and more useful exercise regimen, but a little creativity will always yield insight into options for concurrent non-job related exercise. If your job is mostly walking, you may want to make sure to get some strength training and more intensive aerobic exercise done. If you job is mostly lifting heaving items, aerobic exercise will be good.
There are social aspects on the job, but there will always be limitations of how much personal conversation and relationship building can go on. On the job conversation has to center around the tasks for the business’s survival, if everyone wants to keep receiving a paycheck. You might share details about how to perform the physical tasks better, but then you need to get busy and concentrate so mistakes aren’t made. However, while running, you can chat, while playing tennis you can yell jovially over the net. Sure, swimming might be limited, but there are plenty of exercise choices that lend themselves to more friendly interaction.
Don’t be discouraged by the limited hours in the day or what you think other people are doing with their exercise. Find exercise options that suit your schedule, compliment your job and ideas of fun, and allow you to feel refreshed and strengthened. It doesn’t have to be every day and it doesn’t have to be for a long time each day. Over time, you will find your overall energy level increases and allows you to do both more exercise in shorter amounts of time, as well as enjoy your non-exercise time more.