Good Question: Fitness While Working 9-to-5

>> Monday, March 19, 2012

Maggie writes: "I'm a pretty casual runner. I jog for fun, usually with my dog, and take my time. Ideally, I run about two miles three or four times per week with an additional warmup and cooldown. This casual running (in combination with yoga and lifting) seems to keep me healthy, happy, and in shape."

"As a newbie to the 9-to-5 scene, I've found that I don't have the time I need to get my workouts in. Would it be as healthy and effective to run every weekday (Mon-Fri) for a shorter distance in order to maintain my sanity?"

The question Maggie poses is an important one. And it gets at a deeper issue close to my heart. Working a full-time job is difficult and, at times, disheartening when there's the desire to keep up life outside the office. Even more difficult is maintaining good nutrition and exercise habits -- as well as good mental health -- when logging long hours in a cubical. E.s.p.e.c.i.a.l.l.y when it's a first "real" job. (I wrote a bit about this balancing act in Staying Healthy While Working Full Time.)

But back to Maggie's specific question. Is it effective to run a shorter distance every day of the week versus running a slightly longer distance fewer days? My initial answer begins with a bit of a question. What are you looking to accomplish with your running?

Say you run 10 miles per week. As we see it, it doesn't matter exactly when you run those miles. You're still getting the overall benefit of the total.

So, if your running routine is more for the mental health benefits, do whatever you can to get out there more often and reap those stess-relieving rewards. To vary the routine a bit, consider taking some days slow, some days fast, and others with some brief intervals (30 seconds fast, 30 seconds slow, for example).

However, if you are running for your sanity and looking to enhance your fitness level, I'd suggest another approach.

Say your goal is to eventually run a 5K race. Or improve your time at the distance. It'd be a good idea to slate 3 or 4 days of the week as training days. Concentrate your running efforts on those days -- varying your routine as suggested above, or by following a training plan. Boost your mood on the "off" days by taking walks during your breaks or at lunchtime. Walking can be just as freeing as running.

Sometimes putting yourself on a plan will help you find a way to carve out more time for training. Or it'll motivate you on days when the stress of work is all-consuming.

Does anyone else have suggestions for Maggie? Ultimately, I have found that experimentation with different routines helps me find my stride -- quite literally. So keep at it, Maggie!

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