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As the New Year resolve begins to wane, I’m reminded of the many times I have heard the statement: “I get plenty of exercise at work.” Many people who say this have stressful jobs, and they just can’t imagine fitting another thing into their life.
Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress Related Diseases, and Coping, addressed this in a lecture that I attended. With pithy humor, he describes an experiment where one rat has a treadmill that he can get on and run whenever he wants to. Rats can run miles in one night. Another rat was kept on his treadmill, and he was forced to run whenever the other rat would run. Both rats got the same amount of exercise.
Which one do you think was healthier?
With control of his experience, the first rat showed greater resilience in health, while the second suffered the negative effects of stress.
Next time you have the thought, “I get plenty of exercise at work.” Are you enjoying the treadmill or are you forced to run? What is your attitude while you are exercising? If your exercise routine is stressful, the positive effects of moving and strengthening your body might be negated by the stress response.
Make a choice for your health to find balance. If you get enough movement at work but lots of stress, then find something relaxing and meditative for balance. If you get no movement at work, then honor your body by choosing an activity that balances with your personality. Maybe you thrive and enjoy the time-pressure of work without getting overwhelmed. Perhaps ballroom dance opens you to flowing emotions. The meditative practices of conscious movement, like tai chi and yoga, might appeal to your spiritual side. Weight lifting and gym exercise might help you focus on your physical body as you focus on strength and flexibility. Whatever the movement, be open to the fact that “exercise” does not need to look like “exercise.” There is more than one way to add healthy movement as a health practice without overwhelming your stress response.
Check out the book by Robert Sapolsky for more insight into our stress response and health.