Work, no matter what kind, can take a toll on your body.
Whether you’re a burly construction worker, a nurse in a busy hospital ward or a secretary who spends the day transcribing notes and records, your work has an impact on your physical health and well-being.
Finding ways to combat and overcome those effects is key to ensuring health and happiness at work as we strive to overcome or avoid workplace stress, repetitive strain injuries, pain, poor posture and deteriorating muscles.
Whether you spend your days sitting at a desk, standing in front of a classroom, making deliveries or working on a construction site, there are things you can do to address trouble areas, prevent injury and strengthen your body and mind.
Research shows exercise can make us better at our jobs. Exercise helps improve focus, elevates mood, boosts energy and confidence, and contributes to greater productivity and enjoyment.
Lorna Coady, a high school special needs teacher from St. John’s, spends much of her workday standing. This creates a variety aches and pains in her feet, ankles, back and shoulders.
“I am on my feet a lot, bending over to help the students, and spend a great deal of time walking,’’ Coady said.
“This caused me a lot of back pain, which added to the stresses of the job, the fatigue and mental exhaustion, and I also developed plantar fasciitis,’’ she added.
Plantar fasciitis is common among those who spend a lot of time standing and is the inflammation of a band of tissue running along the bottom of the foot.
Coady has been working with personal trainer Krista Hogan at GoodLlife Fitness on Blackmarsh Road in St. John’s.
Her workout is comprised of stretching and strengthening key areas —calves, hamstrings, shoulders and upper back.
“Something as simple as just pulling my shoulders back helped with my back pain. In addition, I lost weight (35 pounds), gained more energy and lowered my stress levels,’’ she said.
“If I am having a bad day, I get here to the gym and in five minutes I am laughing.”
Coady teaches at Leary’s Brook Junior High, where she works with the LEARN program dealing with refugee children. A lot of her students come from highly stressful backgrounds and she says she carries some of the weight of their burdens with her — something she didn’t realize initially.
Add to that she’s had two car accidents in three years, the most recent in January, plus the day-to-day stresses most people have.
“Krista has helped me through a lot of this. I missed this (week’s workout) and I feel like crap for not being there,” she said.
With most strength training regimens, there has to be an equal amount of stretching to help with a range of motion.
In Coady’s case, Hogan used myofascial release, foam rolling, rolling a ball under Coady's foot, ankle rolling and other stretches.
“I have been working with Lorna now for a full year and I have seen a great improvement in her,’’ Hogan said.
“Her core strength — which helps her lower back — and the upper back for posture muscles is an area she worked hard on.’’
Getting the ball rolling
Here are a few job types and suggested workout approaches:
A number of issues occur for people who primarily work at a desk, including poor posture, tight hip flexor muscles, weak glutes, slumped shoulders, a sore neck and lower back pain.
To counter each of these issues, Krista Hogan of GoodLife Fitness on Blackmarsh Road in St. John’s suggests a training program that includes elongating/stretching the front muscles and strengthening the ones in the back.
She said it is important to stretch the hip flexors and the front of shoulders in addition to building strength in the glutes and shoulders and working on improving posture. She said getting up and moving around every 20 minutes promotes circulation and muscle use.
Trouble areas: Sitting at a desktop computer promotes slumped shoulders and shortens the hip flexor muscles.
Studies show that as muscles weaken around our spine, we tend to hunch more and our heads jut forward, straining our backs and necks.
• Dynamic warmup
• Exercises to build core and glute stability
• Strength training for shoulder and back muscles
On your feet all day?
Building stamina and addressing leg and ankle strength and mobility caused by standing five hours a day or more is critical. Standing contributes to a significant and prolonged lower-limb muscle fatigue. This can raise the risks of long-term back pain and musculoskeletal disorders.
Nurses, teachers, mail carriers and others who stand and walk for their jobs need to look at strengthening their leg and core muscles and promoting mobility.
Cardio can help endurance.
Trouble areas: Standing and walking all day can lead to circulation problems in your legs, as well as lower back and foot muscle pain.
• Calf raises for circulation and squatting for joint movement
• Exercises to increase ankle mobility
• Exercises to strengthen glutes (overhead walking lunges, single leg bench squats)
• Isolated core work
• Stretching lower back — cat/camel, glute stretches
For those who run heavy equipment, lift heavy objects and move containers, a fair bit of strength training happens on the job. People who do physical labour can benefit from regular cardiovascular exercise to build aerobic stamina and should focus on mobility and preventing injury.
People who do physical labour often favour one side when they lift or do repetitive work that causes muscular imbalance and posture issues, as well as pain.
Personal trainers would likely work on stretching and addressing imbalances through bodyweight exercises
Trouble areas: If your work involves physical labour, you need to allow time for your body to recover to prevent injuries from overuse. Lifting heavy things can also strain your heart, so it’s important to maintain heart health and build stamina with regular cardio exercise.
• Warm up
• Mechanical tissue work, such as foam rolling or massage.
• Focus on working the areas that you don’t use at work
• Keep strength sessions brief and avoid lifting until failure
• Always include cardio to build aerobic endurance