In Defense of Energizers: Incorporate physical activity into your work, training


Kathy Iverson is a professor and department chair for Roosevelt University's Training and Development graduate program. She teaches organization development, cultural diversity, research methodology, training foundations, consulting, and evaluation.

Kathy Iverson is a professor and department chair for Roosevelt University’s Training and Development graduate program. She teaches organization development, cultural diversity, research methodology, training foundations, consulting, and evaluation.

It’s no surprise that obesity and sedentary lifestyles are negative by-products of our plugged-in society, but did you know that working and learning at your computer for long periods of time can lead to an early demise? A large body of research links physical inactivity to higher rates of morbidity and mortality (McCrady & Levine, 2013). Compounding this finding are new developments that reveal sedentary behavior as a unique health risk independent of physical activity. Long periods of sedentary time (distinct from too little exercise) are associated with increased mortality, increased obesity, high blood pressure, elevated risk of type 2 diabetes and adverse metabolic profiles (Stamatakis, et al. 2013). Even dedicated gym rats are not immune from risk. One hour at the gym does not make up for 10-hours at the desk.

Godfatherly advice
How do we combat the negative effects of long sedentary hours spent designing and delivering e-learning? When it comes to movement, there are few better experts than James Brown, who famously prescribed: “Get On Up.” Likewise, we need to find opportunities to insert movement into our workday. Here are strategies that forward-thinking organizations have adopted:

  1. Incorporate movement into the workday by encouraging employees to take walks during lunch periods and breaks. Some organizations are going so far as to provide employees with pedometers to track their activity.
  2. Interrupt work at regular times with short bouts of exercise. So instead of working intensely for four or more hours at a time, work for an hour and take a five or 10-minute activity break.
  3. Incorporate activity into tasks by investing in treadmill desks or Swiss balls instead of chairs.

Note that the first two interventions take employees away from their work, making some organizations fear that healthy bouts of exercise will result in lower productivity. The third practice, although somewhat extreme, works from the assumption that physical activity will not interrupt workflow.

Break, energize and move
As e-learning designers and trainers, we can become more sensitive to the need for regular activity throughout the day by bringing energizers, or mini activity breaks, back to our training programs by building opportunities for brief movement into our delivery. We can also emphasize mobile delivery which gives participants the opportunity to move while they learn.

What do you think?
What strategies do you use to combat a sedentary work life and build regular movement into your workday? How can we build activity our training programs, particularly e-learning programs?



McCrady, S., & Levine, J. (2009). Sedentariness at work: how much do we really sit? Obesity, 17(11), 2103-2105.
Stamatakis, E., Chau, J. Y., Pedisic, Z., Bauman, A., Macniven, R., Coombs, N., & Hamer, M. (2013). Are sitting occupations associated with increased all-cause, cancer, and cardiovascular disease mortality risk? A pooled analysis of seven British population cohorts. Plos ONE, 8(9).



  • amandavaughan11

    It is very eye-opening when you think about how much time is actually spent sitting in front of computer at a desk. The health risks are huge and it is something we rarely think of. It is a really great point that just an hour at the gym outside of a work schedule really isn’t enough. Exercise and movement throughout the day is much more beneficial. I am sure that besides the health benefits, there is research that shows that it would also lead to more effective and productive employees. I am pretty sure that my brain works better when I’m not in a sedated stupor sitting at my desk for hours on end!

  • I found this article most interesting. I work a 40+ hour work week and also am focused on school at this time. So basically I am sitting in front of a computer all day long. I recently started to work out one hour a day 4 days a week and have felt much better with my energy and mental state. I found it interesting that the one hour a day does not make a difference in the long run. So something I definitely need to focus on.
    The strategy that I need to start to implement for that work life balance is to follow what I do in a training environment. I feel that answer to both the question is the same for me in a virtual environment about every 90 minutes we take a 5-10 minute break. I specifically tell the participants to leave their desk and grab some water or walk around and return in 10 minutes. My goal is to ‘do as I say’ and get up from my desk and walk to get a glass of water or just around my training area.
    Thanks Kathy for the thoughts and helping me see the light with the importance of exercise in the work environment.

  • I am a huge proponent of getting exercise whenever and wherever you can. I have a standing workstation (not a fancy one, more of a DIY but it works). What I like about standing is that it is a constant reminder that my feet are “there”. I know this sounds silly, but once you are already standing, it is much easier to consider walking over to someone for an answer instead of picking up a phone.

    Our office isn’t massive, so I actually have made it a personal rule to not call anyone working in my same office (and standing already really helps me stick to it). This rule helps me move while continuing to work, albeit not as efficiently as a quick phone call or IM. But, this walking time also doubles as an investment back into my co-workers, and also into my own work life harmony (making my work life more meaningful through healthy human interaction)! When you go see someone in person for an answer, you are more likely to chat a little bit, getting to know that colleague as a person, not just a co-worker. I maintain that this investment in workplace “humanization” has huge returns (for the individuals and really the corporation as a whole, but that is probably an entirely different blog entry). Seeing someone’s workspace really can tell you a lot about them you would never learn from just picking up the phone. So, walking for answers gets is a healthy investment for both body and mind (from an improved / friendlier workplace environment standpoint).

    Another idea to build exercise into a regular workday routine without extra (too much) disruption? Take the longest route to and from the bathroom, water cooler, kitchen, etc. that you can. These are places you would go anyway during your day. There are also “deskercizes” you can do while working (standing or sitting, I included a link below).

    Now, taking time to not work while at work is actually also very healthy, despite what the boss may think. There are studies out there that suggest that taking breaks at work make the time spent working more productive (one article can be viewed with a simple cut and paste here On that note, consider getting the most out of these times by ensuring breaks benefit both the body and the mind. One idea is to go out to lunch, but pick places a little farther than normal- so less sitting and eating and more walking. Last… when the weather is tolerable, walk and eat your lunch at the same time… take an apple and other easy to eat foods, stroll around and eat. I love doing this during the (not super-hot) summertime days in the City. There is so much to see!

    In closing, I will leave you with a fun link for more ideas to “get your move on” at work… WHILE working:

  • It is really funny that you posted this when you did. I was having a conversation with a coworker about getting the stand up desk monitor. It is a scary thought that just sitting at your desk working can kill you.

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