I Actually Work Out on My Lunch Break—Here’s How I Make It Work

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I Actually Work Out on My Lunch Break—Here’s How I Make It Work

I love working out over my lunch break, and when people hear that’s part of my fitness routine, the questions start coming. “Does your boss care?” “Do you eat lunch?” And the most popular one: “But don’t you get sweaty?” Answers: Not really, heck yeah, and sure, but it’s fine—to which they respond, “I could never do that” with a look of longing envy on their faces.

Look, I get it. There’s a stigma around working out on your lunch break: You’re deemed a health nut or a total slacker. Making time for exercise is challenging enough, let alone figuring out how to squeeze it into the same hour you’re supposed to slam a sandwich while answering email. But the truth is, I’ve found that nobody actually cares about my midday workout, especially if I’m still checking everything off my to-do list.

Working out over lunch has made me a more productive employee, better able to lead my teams, and most of all, less stressed and more committed to exercise as a whole. Here’s my best advice for making lunch break workouts happen:

FIRST THINGS FIRST: START WITH TRANSPARENCY

Before adding noon workouts to my calendar, I brought it up with my boss. Since her leadership style is basically “Do what you gotta do, but be reasonable and get shit done,” I figured she would be open to it, and she was. However, I’m a content manager for health care communications, which means my day-to-day mostly involves meetings, conference calls, and writing or editing on a laptop. In my role, it’s entirely feasible to spend a lunch break outside walking a couple days a week, but not all industries or titles allow for this.

Still, I’ve found that transparency works. I hold time on my calendar every day, versus sneaking in and out of the office around lunchtime. My team knows if I’m not at my desk at noon, I’m likely working out, but we’re in touch constantly, just in case something else more important arises. I’m also verbal about why working out midday benefits me (I’m more focused and relaxed afterward) and the company bottom line (I’m also more engaged and creative). Honesty breeds respect, and most employers know by this point that work wellness matters.

REMEMBER THAT WORK COMES FIRST — ALWAYS

In a perfect world, I’d leave my desk every single day to indulge in a long power yoga class, casually eat a healthy salad, and dive back into tasks refreshed and renewed. But in reality, the noon hour is a choreographed dance to the tune of “I have exactly 60 minutes to get moving and inhale a turkey wrap from home.” And even then, some days I can plan to my heart’s content and not even work out over lunch at all.

I mean, I might aim for a short jog at 11:30 A.M., only to have a team member ask for help with a pressing project. Or my boss says, “Hey, got a minute?” Or a meeting gets rescheduled at the last minute. When those situations arise, I skip the workout and prioritize my actual work. It can be annoying—particularly if I had to sign up for a class in advance or prepay for a workout—but the only way to be smart about lunchtime workouts is to remember they’re a luxury, not a given. I don’t take advantage of this perk.

Furthermore, on the days I do get to work out over lunch, I’m willing to make up the time away from the office wherever necessary. I might stay late, or bring speech drafts home, or wake up super early the next morning to get ahead of time-consuming analytics. Working out should make my work better, not worse, so I do what it takes to balance both. Some might argue this approach leads to a higher quantity of work, but for me it’s a valuable trade-off.

TWO WORDS: DRY SHAMPOO

I’ll cut to the chase. You’re going to sweat. But you have to get over it. I’ve been doing this for nearly two years now, and the whole sweating thing is honestly not that big of a deal.

Maybe it helps that, as a new mom, I worship at the temple of dry shampoo, which allows me to maximize those minutes post-sweat. I do not go the “wash your hair” route at the gym. No, no. I keep a fully stocked gym bag in my car at all times with makeup essentials, face wipes, deodorant, and the wonder that is dry shampoo. Then, if I’m at a gym with a shower, I can rinse off quickly, throw my hair in a low bun, and go. If I don’t have access to a shower, I try to pick a workout that won’t leave me looking like I just strolled out of a swimming pool. For me, the goal is to get some type of physical activity in, not hit my absolute max every time, and return to the office looking somewhat presentable. Trust me, it works—I regularly hear people say, “How do you get ready so fast?” in the locker room.

IT’S BETTER TO BE OVERPREPARED THAN UNDERPREPARED

Two other tips: Always pack a variety of workout clothes to accommodate any type of workout, and bring your bag to work. Every. Single. Day. The former allows you to take full advantage of your window of time, no matter what, instead of cursing yourself for not having the proper gear. Seriously, if I had a dime for every day I planned on not working out, only to realize I did have time, I’d be able to afford a monthly SoulCycle membership. Yes, it’s a slight hassle to remember your stuff every day or schlep it along with you on the train or bus, but being prepared means you won’t miss a golden opportunity to move your body and give your brain a mental break during the day.

NEVER, EVER SKIP LUNCH

It surprises me when people assume I swap food for a workout in the middle of the day. Um, no. Aside from needing, you know, energy and nutrients, I also just really like eating, and I’ve found that brown-bagging my lunch allows me to enjoy it in multiple stages instead of all at once.

Celebrity trainer Erin Oprea tells me she’s also a big fan of packed lunches, especially for anyone trying to work out over lunch. “Packing your lunch allows you to eat a healthy meal that gives your body the nutrients you really need without giving you the heavy feeling you can easily get from eating out. Packing your lunch also gives you more time to get in quick exercise.”

I usually bring something to eat about an hour before lunchtime, like string cheese and veggies, hard-boiled eggs and almonds, or a protein bar. Act two is the main event: the sandwich, salad, bowl of soup, or container of leftovers ingested right when I get back to my desk. Finally, I’m never without a solid snack for the afternoon, such as dark chocolate peanut butter cups and berries, because my metabolism will be up and running after I’ve ducked out for a workout.

By packing my lunch and eating it in stages, it feels like I’m eating more. Which, let’s get real, helps to break up the old 9-to-5 and fuels my workout for optimal results.

THE RESEARCH BACKS IT UP

You’ve probably heard that sitting all day is linked to an increase in undesirable health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. So all signs points to yes when it comes to getting up throughout the day and moving around. There’s also a towering pile of research pointing to the benefits of midday exercise: Emerging research suggests that it may lead to better job performance,improved stamina, more enthusiasm, and increased creativity.

Plus, exercise reduces stress, which has endless benefits at both work and home—it might help you cope with difficult coworkers, think more strategically, and tackle heavy workloads.

I also find that I work out both harder and smarter (sorry, no Instagram scrolling on the elliptical) due to the shorter time frame of a lunchtime workout—both of which enhance the workout as a whole.

And last but not least, on the days I work out over lunch, I don’t feel the need to guzzle more caffeine at 3 P.M. I can solve problems faster and multitask more efficiently. My eyes don’t ache from staring at a computer screen for eight hours, because I’ve given myself an actual, real break to decompress and come back stronger. Most of all, my patience lasts longer, and I’m much happier—at work and at home later on.

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  • Lauren

    Really interesting post! How do you workout, though? On-site gym? Office? What kind of workouts do you do? I have a similar job role and would love to make this a habit.

    • Kate Paullin

      Also what I was about to ask! A couple of my coworkers and I work out at lunch by doing videos, but I’ve been trying to figure out other options for things I could do on my own, just in case.

    • Hwat

      I also have a similar job. We have an onsite gym, and showers, but priority is given to customers over employees, so I don’t plan on them being available. However, there is also a public track a block away, and that’s what I prefer to hit. In the rare instances that both are unavailable (events do get scheduled at the track), I’ll just set my course going around the block.

      I also make checking the weather part of my routine so I know what clothes to bring.

  • Chris

    I totally agree with this article I have been walking on my lunch break for over 2 years now my normal day is a mile walk to subway “for a salad” and a mile walk back if I hustle I can do it in under a hour. I have lost over 90 pounds Adding this to my Daily routine and I do agree that I am way more focused after a lunch walk.

  • Robin Miller

    I totally agree with this article. I get a 30 minute lunch and for several years now, I walk on my lunch break. I keep tennis shoes, sunglasses, headphones, sometimes I walk with a friend and sometimes I walk with my music; it helps break up the day and nothing is better than fresh air and sunshine. Sometimes in bad weather or during winter, instead of walking I do an exercise video. I keep all kinds of personal items to freshen up afterwards. There are many days I don’t want to do it or don’t feel like doing it and some days I don’t! But I ALWAYS feel so much better when I do.

  • Jenny

    Me Me!! I just started doing this! Best thing ever. In fact, I’m coming in 30 min early everyday and extending lunch to 1 1/2 hours. There is a gym close by. Incredible. Can’t wait to see my results. I have about 25 Lbs I put back in to lose.