Health

How to Fit in Exercise When You’re Busy Lawyering


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  • Shifting your thinking away from formal exercise sessions can help you squeeze more physical activity into your busy life
  • Adding bits of exercise into your workday can accumulate fast
  • Your commute is often an opportunity to add some extra movement to your day

“I know I should exercise, but I just don’t have the time!” 

Chances are you’ve said some variation of this phrase at some point during your life as a lawyer. You know about the physical and psychological benefits of exercise, but it often seems like life, and especially the legal work part, gets in the way.

But even the busiest lawyer can fit some exercise into his or her day without setting the alarm any earlier. The first step is to eliminate the notion that exercise requires gym equipment and an hour of your time. The second step is to realize that exercise is cumulative—short bursts of exercise can add up to a substantial benefit and every little bit counts. Once you’ve readjusted how you view exercise, you’ll find it easier to fit some into your busy day.

Take a Walk

An easy way to increase the exercise you get during the day is to add more walking to your routine when you’re not in the office. If you go out to Starbucks in the afternoon, take a brisk walk (or two) around the block before grabbing your cup of joe. If you drive to work, park further away and speed-walk to the front door of the office. You commute by public transportation? If your morning is starting slow as many lawyers’ do sometimes, get off a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way. If you’ve unexpectedly gone “pencils down” and can get out of the office at a normal hour, walk a bit toward your home before hopping on the subway or bus (or go the whole way if it’s not too far). As long as you’re walking at a brisk pace, you’re getting extra exercise.

But you can also add more walking to your routine while you’re at work. After all, lawyers are expert multitaskers! If you’re getting on a long conference call that you just need to listen in on but not actively participate, grab your headset and go for a walk. Need to take notes? Close the door and pace around your office. Stop to jot down notes as necessary but, otherwise, keep moving. This is also a great way to reduce nervous energy. Need to speak to a colleague who sits on the other side of the office? Get up and go see them in person instead of picking up the phone. Face-to-face communication has many benefits for your working relationships, and even a short round trip to your colleague’s office, using the stairs, can add incremental exercise to your day. Ever been winded rushing to someone’s office? That’s a little burst of exercise.

If your attorney registration is coming up and you need to catch up on those time-consuming CLEs (and are not required to attend in-person classes), that’s the perfect time to do get moving. Whether it’s internal programs, PLI sessions or other video CLEs, the visuals are not essential as they tend to be talking heads with slides reiterating the points already being discussed. You can get just as much out of these sessions by listening to them. Take a walk outside or pace around your office while listening to these lectures. Or, if it’s a video with useful graphics that you need to watch, grab your tablet and get on a treadmill at the gym to walk and watch them. You’ll be moving towards your credit requirement while maximizing your step count.

When’s the last time you took a brisk walk? Why not take one right now?

Exercise While You Commute

If walking does not seem like enough for you, consider using your morning or evening commute to add more vigorous exercise. If you live in a city with a bike-share program – like Citi Bike in New York City, Ford GoBike in San Francisco, Divvy in Chicago or Capital Bikeshare in DC) – get a membership and ride a bike to or from work, depending on which part of your day tends to be slower. Some employers even provide transit benefits toward these programs. If you work in a smaller office that tends to be more casual, or your office culture is big on intramurals, changing into workout attire at the office may be commonplace, so no one would think twice if you changed into workout attire at the end of the day and ran home. There are even specific backpacks made for running for you to put some documents and valuables in. 

If you can’t bike or run home, don’t worry, you can actually squeeze in a few extra exercises while you wait for public transportation – and unfortunately there is almost always a wait! You can do simple calf raises by lifting yourself onto your toes and holding for ten seconds or balance on one foot for 30 seconds. You can do both in a way that isn’t all that noticeable to the people around you, if you’re worried about that. Even choosing to stand and alternating wait onto each leg can work out your muscles. You can also flex your deep stomach muscles through braking and turning, which creates a fair amount of force, to strengthen your core. Even if you’re sitting, raising up each leg off the floor for 30 seconds at a time can work your muscles pretty hard after a few repetitions.

Exercise at Work

At work, you have plenty on your plate. However, while lawyers’ workdays are long, there are opportunities throughout to squeeze in just a little exercise. For example, opt to walk up and down the stairs instead of using an escalator or elevator. This barely adds any time but can be a nice bit of exercise in most modern office buildings. If you routinely take the stairs, try taking two steps at a time or walking some extra stairs as a slight detour, then taking the elevator to wherever you’re going. Any variation that will make it more challenging will help you get more exercise. When you’re in your office, you can lift small weights to keep yourself focused on conference calls while working some arm muscles. If your employer will provide you with a convertible standing desk (one that can be both a traditional desk and standing desk), take advantage of it, because just standing can burn quite a few calories.

Every Little Bit Counts

Overall, exercising your body when you’re way too busy really comes down to recognizing that opportunities are everywhere throughout the day and little bursts of exertion can add up quickly over time. Remembering that every little bit counts and that it all adds up to something substantial will help you focus on maximizing these opportunities for exercise throughout the day.

What's Next

Identify one opportunity throughout your workdays where you might be able to exert more energy than you already do.