As a NYC government employee I’ve sometimes likened myself to the Dark Knight – spending his days trying to help Gotham and its citizens improve its services and save loads of money all the while looking like and feeling fit like a superhero (except for the skin tight rubber suit). But sometimes it’s hard for that second part to become a reality especially when you’re spending most of your energy trying to get legislation passed, passing a budget, changing a policy, or preparing for council meetings etc. Government work can be difficult and which makes it even more difficult to take care of your health. But it can be done.
I am a stern believer that prioritizing your wellness – that is, eating right and exercising is essential to advancing your work as a public servant. How well can you really serve the public if you are not doing your best to serve yourself? Fortunately, my beliefs are more than just words and are backed by research and evidence:
- Exercise can increase focus and mental performance. 
- Eating healthier and consistent physical activity can delay age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzeihmer’s disease, osteoporosis, and liver dysfunction
- Moderate exercise can reduce stress and strengthen your immune system. 
So I know what you’re thinking. Everyone’s heard about the advantages of exercise and eating healthy, but it just simply isn’t enough to motivate me to change my lifestyle. Surely these advantages have trade offs like changing your lifestyle, compromising your time and adding more work to your day. Just like a good government analyst, you are doing the right thing and pragmatically considering both the pros and cons. However, in this case the pros overwhelmingly outweigh the cons. If you have worries about compromising your time or drastically changing your lifestyle to gain these benefits then think again. Most of the time a life of wellness simply requires a commitment to yourself and a few small habit changes one step at a time (check out our blog post on how to create a habit).
To make it even easier, here are 5 tips to get your fitness and health in quick and convenient ways:
(1) Start small and work your way up – just like a pilot program initiated by a city council district. Come up with a small plan, that requires a small piece of your budget (I.e. 5-10 minutes of your day) that you know you can accomplish everyday for 3 weeks. If you are really being a good public servant you can advocate for support and alliances with community members to help you commit to your goal (ie ask that analyst sitting across your cubicle to check in with you once a week on your goal). This can look like doing 10 push ups every morning or drinking one less soda a week. After a couple days or a week, raise the stakes and add one more rep or remove one more unhealthy food. Track your progress and after 3-4 weeks, you new behavior should become a lifelong habit.
(2) Say no to cheap rewards and think of long term solutions. So say no sugar filled Dunkin Donuts that give you an immediate high (and quick low) and yes to morning fruit and or green smoothies that provide long term energy throughout your day. Breakfast definitely is the most important meal of your day so don’t spoil it with fatty donuts or breakfast sandwiches. Buy a couple fruits, protein powder and/or green vegetables to make a healthy and fiber filled smoothie for yourself in the morning. If that doesn’t fill you up buy a bundle of bananas, a bag of nuts or oatmeal to keep you full until lunch time.
(3) Reinvent your government…working space and buy a stability ball and use it to replace your work seat. Hey, Google doesn’t have to be the only fun office in the planet! Using one of these stability balls at your desk can help correct your posture, strengthen your core and lower back, while also being a fun bouncy ball for you to play with in the office when you’re taking a break from all those contracts and union negotiations. Remember, it’s 2012. Government is reinventing itself and one way is to reinvent office work spaces, working styles and habits. Using a stability ball at your desk to correct your posture, strengthen your core and have some fun is definitely a good way to get it started.
(Here’s a picture of Heather Diaz, Transportation Analyst at NYC Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, getting her work and fitness on with her stability ball)
(4) Don’t fall for cheap gimmicks – educate yourself! The health and fitness industry is fragmented and has poor incentives to help empower people to take care of their health. Just like any great public servant who is tackling a new social issue, it’s important to take personal responsibility to pursue the knowledge you need to succeed. Here is a list of some of our favorite health, fitness and food experts:
- Marion Nestle – Food politics.
- Mark Bittman – Simple eating and cooking.
- Alwyn Cosgrove – Fundamentals to fitness.
Follow blogs and books by trustworthy food and fitness experts to educate yourself from all angles so you could choose for yourself what fits with your life goals.
(5) Gather bi-partisan support! When does long term legislation ever get passed by a lone maverick on the assembly floor? Never. So why should you go about improving your personal health alone? Talk to close friends, significant others, family and co-workers and let them know of your personal health goals. Ask if they can support you or even join you in your efforts. Having these relationships support you will help build up even more motivation to succeed in living a healthier lifestyle.
Hopefully, in the future more and more government leaders and workers can get their super fitness on. If you have some feedback, more ideas or questions I’d love to hear from you at [email protected] or send us a comment on facebook.
I’ve gotten to the point where I feel really guilty if I go a day without any type of exercise. It’s good, keeps me motivated. Once you start seeing results, it gets easier to keep up with!
Yea I defniitely know what you mean Corey! That’s awesome. If you want to take it up a notch, try setting up an inter-office workout group. A couple of folks on our floor have signed up for the Tough Mudder in NJ next October and we started doing weekly work outs. I’m excited to see a whole bunch of NYC policy and budget analysts dominate the competition! 🙂
Simple things can make a big difference. Moderate exercise is easy and helps relieve stress. Skip the calorie packed (and often expensive) lunch and go for a brisk walk instead. By packing your lunch, you can insure that you’re eating healthy. Buy a pedometer and keep track of how many steps you walk every day. Health experts recommend 10,000 steps a day.
I’d love to try one of those mud runs, they look like a lot of fun and having ran XC in high school and college definitely something I’d be interested in. I’ll be working at a different job starting next week, we’ll see if I can get a few Physicists to do one of those races with me!
@Tim – simple things definitely make a big difference. In Rhode Island we participate in a health program called ShapeUpRI. Part of that program includes getting a pedometer and tracking your steps. I consider myself an active person, but many work days I struggled to get 10,000 steps. A pedometer is a great tool for judging just how active you are.
I live only about 20 minutes away from my DC office, so I try to walk to and from work as often as possible instead of taking the metro. It not only helps my fitness, but it helps me wake up on the way to work. Other than that I try to take runs and go to fitness classes with friends, but sometimes those get sacrificed if the workweek gets too busy!
I asked what people did to stay fit a work on GovLoop’s Google Plus, and got the fooling response:
Eric Mueller I work at the Pentagon and have a fitbit, so I climb stairs and walk. I’ll climb to the 5th floor, then walk around A ring. Doing this about 5 times a day I can do about 30-35 floors and more than 13000 steps.
I also received the following responses on GovLoop’s Facebook:
Janae Henderson We have a bootcamp that meets on M, W, R after work…I also do a bootcamp in the mornings, run & go to the gym…great stress reliever & also helps w/ fitness goals
Kari Uhlman Yoga at least once a week in the summer and I train for half-marathons in the spring. My husband and I walk half-marathons.
Thanks for the responses everyone! Such great ideas! I love love LOVE the fact that more gov workers are walking and stepping more — I truly believe it is one of the most underrated ways of being more physically active. For you steppers out there – try checking out (or even starting!) stair climbing fundraisers like the 75-story Stair Climb at the US Bank Tower in LA. As an infrastructure and transportation enthusiast, I’m amazed at how you folks find more and more creative ways to use the public built environment for activity and exercise 🙂
Every morning I walk up 110 stairs to my office on the 7th floor. And I take the stairs down on the way out at the end of the day and any other time I have to go out for lunch or a meeting offsite.