Add Physical and Mental Fitness Breaks into Your Workday in 3 Steps

Taking physical and mental fitness breaks throughout the workday means less stress and more productivity—explore how to add a pause during your 9-5.

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The Calm Team

6 min read

Remember recess? There’s a reason we used to go outside in the middle of a long day sitting at a desk. You didn’t outgrow the need for midday breaks as an adult. Your brain still needs breaks during the day to function at its best and prevent burnout.

We’re not talking about just a quick desk stretch or a social media scroll in the bathroom. Though there’s nothing wrong with a tiny break like that, deep mental restoration is possible only with truly unplugged moments of play and rest. 

While it can be difficult to have unplugged time amid your day-to-day responsibilities (especially if your employer doesn’t yet have the structure in place to support your taking time away from your desk or station—more on that later), taking physical and mental fitness breaks throughout your workday to exercise, practice mindfulness, or even just nap will make you less stressed and more productive.

What is mental fitness?

Physical fitness—good health and strength achieved through exercise—is a term we’re familiar with. Many of us work toward various physical fitness goals, but whether we do triathlons or chair yoga, the main point of physical fitness is to get our body moving. 

In the same way, mental fitness is all about exercising our minds. Just as doing sit-ups strengthens our abs, doing mindfulness exercises can strengthen our resilience. Looking to get started with mental fitness? Explore our guide here.

Feeling like work has been tougher lately? You’re not alone. Among professionals who transitioned to remote work because of the pandemic, 45% say they regularly work more hours during the week than they did before. Though this sample reflects only the minority of US workers working remotely during the pandemic, many in-person industries, such as healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and food services, have also experienced significant strain due to supply chain and labor shortages. 

In such a chaotic and demanding time, being physically and mentally fit can have a huge impact on your ability to endure the challenges you’re facing. 

Not only can physical fitness breaks provide a rejuvenating respite from a difficult time, but they can also have a powerful impact on your mental functioning. According to research from NIH, just 15 minutes of exercise can improve cognition. And NBC News reported that workers who spent 30–60 minutes at lunch exercising said they experienced an average performance boost of 15%. 

For those physically able to take them, short fitness breaks can improve the rest of your workday, leaving you energized and focused on the tasks ahead.

How to take breaks for physical and mental fitness throughout your workday

Fitness is a commitment—it’s why so many people use New Year’s resolutions to commit to exercising more regularly or taking up a new sport. You don’t have to wait for a holiday to roll around to start making time in your workday for mental and physical fitness, though. 

1. Communicate with your manager

Before you start swimming laps over lunch every day, make sure to check in with your manager and team. Unfortunately, breaks aren’t normalized in all company cultures and state labor protections for break periods vary widely, so having your manager’s support is key. In your next one-on-one, ensure that there’s open dialogue about expectations and any communication needed regarding breaks, such as setting working hours in your calendar or putting an “away” message on Slack. It’ll be easier to commit to your fitness if you know your team won’t be too disrupted while you’re away.

2. Set serious time aside so you don’t skip it

Developing new habits, such as daily meditation or even an end-of-the-workweek nap, takes time. Budget time for fitness on your calendar so it will be easier to follow through. If you’re having trouble finding time, use a digital tool to automatically set aside protected periods for fitness. Finally, give yourself a shortcut to success by preparing the equipment or space you need to take a break. Just as people recommend setting out your running shoes by the door, consider how you can set out a pillow for mindfulness practice, cue up your favorite meditation session, or set your journal on your favorite spot on the couch with the TV remote far out of reach. Make it easy for future you to do what matters most.

3. Replace work habits with new ones

Even while you’re doing traditionally work-related tasks, you can find ways to humanize those responsibilities. Take team meetings off-camera and go for a walk or do the dishes while you listen in. Schedule meetings with teammates as walks or as phone (not video) calls so you can move while you take them. If you used to commute but now work from home, substitute a “non-commute” ritual like a walk around the block or a seated couch stretch session to build both physical and mental fitness before turning on the computer. If you’re commuting via car, use your vehicle as a private space for meditation before heading in to work from a lunch break. Rituals like these can help calm any worries you have about transitioning from one part of your day to the next and provide a nice mental buffer between tasks. 

How to encourage your workmates to take physical and mental fitness breaks

Normalizing taking breaks throughout the day is a powerful way to push back against always-on culture that can lead to burnout. Instead, encourage your colleagues to build resilience and become healthier by doing group activities centered on fitness.

  • Host a meditation group. Reserve a conference room or Zoom room and use Calm to guide coworkers through a recorded meditation. Meditating in a group is a great way to bond as a team.

  • Go for a group walk. Use nearby public parks and host a daily 20-minute walk at a set time in the afternoon, then finish the day strong with that mental focus boost your walk will provide!

  • Normalize taking breaks through company communication channels. Let people know you’re stepping out for a jog or a meditation, and don’t feel like you need to explain yourself. This can help normalize taking breaks in your team culture.

  • Make physical or mental fitness a social event. Instead of a happy hour at a bar, plan a workplace community event that involves fitness or a mindfulness activity.

How to support your team’s physical and mental fitness as an HR professional or manager

As a leader, it’s likely you’re already implementing resources for employee well-being as part of your job (like reading this post!). You’re on the front lines of making workplaces safer, more equitable, and healthier places to make a living long-term. Cheers to that! Here are a few more ideas for enhancing your company’s culture of fitness.

  • First, if you can, provide a wellness stipend for employees to use on gym memberships, outdoor gear, and other fitness expenses. Since income has a huge impact on someone’s ability to access the free time and equipment needed for fitness, a stipend for wellness can go a long way toward leveling the playing field. Make sure the stipend is significant enough to supplement a membership in a large city so that employees remember to use it.

  • Next, normalize meditation or exercise time blocking at work by leading by example. Block time on your calendar for a true break and stick to it. (Maybe even use an internal tool like Slack to update your status to “exercising”!) Mention your fitness breaks in meetings and encourage managers to do the same. Employees will feel more comfortable taking breaks if they know a leader is doing the same, and it helps destigmatize taking time away from work for fitness.

  • In your communication about fitness resources, keep in mind that exercise and meditation are not quick-fix company productivity hacks. Physical and mental fitness at an organizational level is a long-term choice to invest in the well-being of your employees and their families. While investing in your people helps them bring their best selves to work, provide these resources to make employees happy, not to squeeze out more working time. The way you communicate about your well-being resources, especially to a population that might be skeptical or confused about those offerings, matters just as much as the programs themselves! Explore more tips on helping your employees take care of themselves holistically.

Finally, make mental health more accessible at work by partnering with the #1 platform for mental fitness. Book a demo now to learn how an anywhere, anytime resource can improve the workplace experience.

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