Is exercising at work widely accepted?

If you have access to a company gym, staying fit is easier than ever. If you don't, be sure to check with your boss before lifting weights on the job.
If you have access to a company gym, staying fit is easier than ever. If you don't, be sure to check with your boss before lifting weights on the job.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Getting a workout on the clock may be as easy as showing up to work -- if you're a construction worker or rafting guide. For others, getting a workout at a place of employment may be as easy as walking down to the company gym. However, a good many workers without the luxury of on-site gyms (or permissive managers) may have to sneak in a few reps within the confines of their cubicles when nobody's looking.

We should be getting all the exercise we can. There are around 130 million American workers, and about 1 in 3 is at risk of developing a chronic disease [source: American Heart Association]. Between age 20 and retirement, the American worker has a 1-in-3 chance of becoming eligible for disability benefits [source: Social Security Administration]. And when retired workers move, 3 out of 5 list "access to healthcare" as the top reason for relocating [source: Hughes].

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There's clearly a need for healthier practices both in and out of the workplace. But is exercise itself welcome at work?

If your employer has an on-site gym, exercise is clearly welcome -- when it takes place inside the gym. If you have the urge to do some cubicle lunges, you may want to bottle that up and save it for the on-site facility.

Even if you have the green light to perform cardio kickboxing in your cubicle, you still need to be aware of how it's affecting you and those around you. If you're stinking up the joint and frequently gasping to catch your breath, your daily exercise sessions will be most unwelcome no matter how tolerant your employer is otherwise.

Even if exercise is encouraged, don't be tricked into thinking your workplace is more casual than it is. You know the saying, "When in doubt, be the best-dressed person there"? It's better to wear your coat and tie while speaking to your sweat-suited boss than the other way around.

But how accepted is exercise in the workplace? We'll find out, next.

An Investment in Your Health

If your place of employment doesn't promote exercise, that may change in the not-too-distant future. All companies operate with a concern for the bottom line -- and employee healthcare benefits are the highest rising business expense [source: U.S. Workplace Wellness Alliance]. In 2010, Starbucks spent more money on its employees' healthcare than it did on coffee [source: Haberkorn].

More than a quarter of all companies' insurance costs are due to employees at high risk of health problems [source: American Heart Association]. Some health issues require disproportionately more healthcare resources than others. For example, obese employees have healthcare costs that are nearly one-and-a-half times higher than other employees' costs, and around 160 million workdays each year in the U.S. are lost due to diabetes, asthma and chronic high blood pressure [source: American Heart Association].

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But by providing access to a gym -- whether through discounted gym memberships or an on-site exercise facility -- employers can cut their rising healthcare costs. Employers who invest in employees' health make between $3 and $15 on every dollar invested [source: American Heart Association].

For this reason, many workplaces strongly encourage exercise and fitness, even to the point of integrating employee health into broader company culture (as well as its recruitment efforts). Google's corporate headquarters ("The Googleplex") offers up to its employees foosball and ping-pong tables, volleyball courts and gyms with yoga and dance classes, as well as two swim-in-place pools.

Around 20 percent of U.S. employers provide employees with direct access to a gym located at the workplace [source: Shellenbarger]. While not every employer can afford (or fit) an on-site facility, nearly 70 percent of U.S. employers offer discounted gym memberships [source: Morgan].

Other workplaces -- such as call centers -- may simply offer the opportunity to work out on the clock, with some discretion or at least common courtesy. Management will probably be more accepting of exercise at work if your attempts to tone yourself up are somewhat toned down. You can get a simple workout by using a small weight or even by just doing calf raises or triceps extensions off your desk chair.

If you can't tell whether exercise would be tolerated at your work place, ask one of your superiors for permission or advice. Just don't interrupt their workout when you do.

Keep reading for lots more information about exercising at work.

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Sources

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