In today's largely computer-reliant workplaces, more people than ever spend the entire day seated and stationary at their desks. So, as spring arrives and we gaze rather jealously at the folks who spend their days hustling around in the sunshine, a question arises: Can a job provide you with all the exercise you need to stay healthy?
"Absolutely," says Michael Brigger, personal trainer and owner of Fairlawn Health and Fitness Training
in Akron, Ohio. "The more manual the labor is, of course, the more calories it would burn and the more muscle groups it would work."
We chose five labor-intensive fields and spoke to Michael, other fitness experts and people in each field about which jobs can keep you in the best shape.
5. Parcel Delivery
According to Dan McMackin at United Parcel Service, the average UPS
driver walks about 4.5 miles and moves thousands of pounds worth of packages each day.
Our experts disagree on whether or not this counts as exercise. Michael says yes: "If you're lifting correctly, which these guys are instructed to do, then you're using your glutes, you're targeting the biggest muscles in your lower half, and also forcing the rest of the body to work in order to help balance you out."
But fitness instructor Matt Probst of Akron's RP Fitness
counters, "I wouldn't consider it exercise. I would consider it movement. In order to fully stimulate a muscle to grow, it must be pushed to the point of failure. You'd have to carry the packages until you physically can't take another step."
4. Bike Courier
The New York Bike Messenger Association
estimates that the average bike courier rides about 40 miles a day, usually while carrying heavy, bulky packages. According to Fitday.com
, that kind of biking should burn about 735 calories an hour for an average-size man.*
But our experts consider this a fairly unbalanced workout. Never mind the lack of upper-body work, says Matt; even the leg muscles aren't getting a full workout.
"Imagine me saying, 'I want you to do bicep curls, and I want you to do 50,000 of them, and you're going to do nothing with your triceps.' Over time, you're going to create an imbalance. That's exactly what the bike courier is doing. You're doing a lot of work with the quadriceps, but the hamstrings aren't doing much work at all. Plus, the very nature of being bent over for that amount of time isn't very beneficial."
3. Yard Care / Landscaping
With the dying art of manual lawn mowing rated at around 409 calories an hour, and basic digging or weeding at around 329, we thought yard work would get good marks.
Our experts were split again, with Michael asserting that "just the amount of workload alone would dictate that your body would be conditioned at a higher plateau than a desk job."
But Matt sticks to his message: "Any job that you do, albeit repetitive in nature and capable of making you fatigued, doesn't necessarily mean that the stimulus involved is adequate to make you any stronger. Let's look at a landscaper. Ask him if he's as tired a year into the job as he was the first day, he's going to say no, absolutely not. Because his body adapted to the stimulus provided to it, the work won't take you any further."
Although it rates slightly lower on our scale at around 300 calories an hour, cleaning up around the house is frequently cited as a surprisingly taxing activity.
As Michael explains, "When you're doing yard work, your body's in an upright position, but when you're doing housework, you're often bent over, which challenges your abdominal muscles a great deal. Plus you have this constant repetitive motion and a great variety of movement. Of course, you also have to consider who's doing the work, how hard you're pushing."
Hands down the winner in Michael's eyes: "The most in-shape people I've seen are the construction guys. I'm talking straight-up house-building, because it's physically demanding and extremely varied, with labors set in different places as opposed to the same repetitive movements. The guys doing siding and roofs, they've got to be able to master the environment around them, which are constantly changing, or they're not going to be able to do the job. Beyond that, everything else in our society has been pulled down to such a sedentary level, down to the safest, least injury-causing thing possible."
Way to make us feel like sissies, Michael. So, what about our experts' jobs? Being a personal trainer must keep you in great shape, right?
Wrong! "I'm not actually going through the motions with my clients," Matt explains. "We have to pay so much attention to the form and how people are doing their movements. If I'm doing exercise myself, I'm not paying attention to them anymore."
So now that you just spent even more time at your computer, what have we learned about exercise in the workplace? Well, there do seem to be some jobs which will provide you with a higher level of overall fitness, but whether you're working out at work or after work, it's important to mix up the routine in order to keep challenging your body to rebuild itself.
At the very least, consider moving the office Nerf basketball hoop to a trash can further away from your chair.
* The average-size man was set at 5-foot-9, 190 lbs., 25 years old.