A tonne of men and women in business suits walk into a gym in Nairobi. It is lunch hour. As other working class head out to eat in the many city restaurants, these fitness fanatics hurry to exercise, shower, grab a snack if they can, and go back to work.
Sabina Nyamu, an accountant, is one of the many Kenyans trading their lunch hour powwow for exercise. She started working out in 2004, a habit that has seen her maintain good weight and body fitness, agility and improve her mental health.
“I try to ensure that my free hour over lunchtime is not occupied by work. Then I go to a gym which is near my office,” she says.
The 33-year-old says since she started exercising, she has maintained her weight at 58 kilogrammes from 74 kgs.
“Besides the weight loss, lunch hour exercises help me focus more on my afternoon work. My favourite workouts are squats, lunges, running, and jumping rope. I ensure I eat healthy foods,” she adds.
For most city dwellers, working in town means 12-hour long days spent in the office and in traffic, with little time to exercise especially for those who cannot do it on early mornings or late nights.
Making time for exercise is challenging enough, so what about fitting in a workout on the one-hour break of the day? However, since the lunch break is a structured part of a workday, one is likely to stick with this new exercise routine.
Data analyst Eric Satia says that his experience has been worthwhile, especially with the fact that his job requires him to be seated for long hours giving him mental and physical fatigue.
“I started exercising over my lunch break in 2014 to break the monotony of my sitting down at work. That, and also because I noticed my tummy had started growing,” he says, laughing.
Because of the exercise, Eric says he even feels more mentally rejuvenated when he goes back to the office in the afternoon. He mostly does high-intensity interval training, also called high-intensity intermittent exercises (HIIT) which include circuit, insanity and intense aerobics.
“I never miss breakfast. I have a snack about an hour before my workout session. Lunch is a definite after exercising,” he adds.
For Lucy Mungai, a business woman who has worked out for the last 22 years, she swears by her midmorning workout sessions.
“I started working out in 1997 at a time when my asthma was bad. The doctor recommended that I should start exercising instead of taking medication. I have never looked back. Lunch hour is a really convenient time for me, especially because of my days are more flexibility as a business person.
I am mentally sharp, and my physical fitness is good,” she says.
Now 54 years old, Lucy makes sure she gets to the gym 30 minutes before the fitness classes start so that she can have a solo pre-workout. In a day, she is able to combine aerobics, walking on steps and muscle training.
“I am at the gym five days a week. It has become a lifestyle for me. Once you get accustomed to working out at lunch hour, it gets easier. Not exercising is what actually makes me disoriented in the afternoon,” she says.
Just like Lucy, 65-year-old Andrew Mutuku has adapted to the afternoon workouts. Although he started going to the gym six years ago, Andrew had been exercising for 19 years before that.
“I only used to run and play squash but now, I have found my solace in the gym. Working out helps me feel energised, light and young,” he says.
And true to his statement, Andrew does not look a day over 55 years.
“I prefer working out over lunch hour because of personal commitments at other times of the day. I am not a morning person, and I always have to drive my wife home every evening,” he says.
“Being a business person, the time is also more flexible for me as I am able to delegate any work that is to be done at lunch hour,” he adds.
But don’t these fitness fanatics get tired or sleepy after doing intense exercises, that it affects their afternoon work?
Andrew says that it is all about one’s level of fitness. First-timers will likely get tired until they get the gist of the workout and it gets easier once it becomes a routine.
“There’s no big difference. Exercising over lunch time could only be a bit tricky, especially for the employed people with fixed hours,” he says.
To prepare for a midmorning workout, Andrew normally has a heavy breakfast. He then has his lunch after the exercise before going back to the office which is a 10-minute walk.
As more people sign up memberships in gyms, trainers have orchestrated lunchtime group exercises.
Marvin Obuya, a 29-year-old who trains clients over lunch hour says it is not an odd time to work out.
“I have more clients attending the morning and evening classes as compared to the midmorning ones, but it just depends on one’s ability and flexibility, especially in their workspaces. Everyone has their own convenient time,” he says.
Typically, his lunch hour sessions at Muscle Fitness Gym near Nairobi’s City Hall have about 25 people. By end month, however, the number is a bit lower.
“Most of my clients get commitments around this time. For others, payday means partying for a couple of days before returning to their normal schedules,” he says.
For Andrew’s clients, the workouts and nutritional advise varies.
“There are different people at the gym. Sick ones whose doctors have recommended exercise, fitness enthusiasts, and even beginners looking to change their lifestyle.
We have to balance the workouts in order to accommodate everybody. At the same time, nutrition depends on a person’s goal at the gym. Some go to lose weight, others go to bulk or to gain weight, while others do it because of medical reasons.
They cannot follow the same diets. We tend to each of their needs accordingly,” he says.
According to Andrew, getting used to the lunch hour routine takes a little bit of planning and some coordination. But, he says, it is often gets easier than a person thinks.
“Plan to work out, make sure you’ve packed your gym bag with everything you need for the day, wear work clothes that make it easy for you to change, and bring a packed lunch,” he says.
Fitness consultant Benson Mululu believes that lunch hour gyms are very efficient, ensuring a quick less time-wasting workout.
“When you’re on a tight schedule, your workouts are going to be more efficient than other times when you can linger on in the gym. You’ll get in and get out without dilly-dallying, which means exercising takes up less of your time daily,” he says.
“Going to the gym over lunch hour also gives one a real break. Many people tend to stick around the office at this hour. This habit makes it hard to disconnect from work and take a mental break. Leaving the office to go work out ensures that you get the break from work that you’re entitled to and have a chance to recharge.”
According to Benson, a midday workout equals to less stress. Studies have shown that exercising can improve mental health and relieve stress and anxiety.
“Even if you love your job, there are times when you start to feel stressed. A midday workout can help.”
Also, exercising during lunch hour frees up the time before or after work. This means no more early mornings or late evenings after beating the rush-hour traffic.
“ It’s more or less like earning extra free time to enjoy your friends, family, hobbies, and added sleep each and every day,” he says.
Also, because many people prefer going to the gym before or after work, there are smaller crowds over lunch hour.
“You might be surprised by how few people use their lunch break to exercise. For those who do, they don’t waste time waiting for machines or for a shower to open up,” says Ben.
He believes that in addition to keeping a person fit, midday workouts can also be a great way to keep one’s diet on track, especially if one tends to snack all day at work.
These workouts help in having fewer junk food cravings.
“When you know that you’re going to be exercising at lunchtime, you’ll be less likely to indulge in junk foods that will leave you feeling bloated or too full. And as you probably know, you won’t be as tempted by those same snacks when you return from an invigorating exercise,” says the 30-year-old trainer.
Tips For exercising during Lunch Break
– Go to a gym close to work.
– Set a workout plan that will help you commit to your training and increase the chances of you going.
– Pack your training kit the night before to save time in the morning.
– To save time on eating out, pack lunch as well. This way, you will also be less likely to choose something unhealthy to “reward” yourself for working out.
– Opt for group exercises which involve short, timed bursts of cardio and strength training that increase metabolism and keeps you focused and on schedule.
– If you’re unable to get to a gym, you should still plan out your exercise, whether that’s mapping a course for your run or bike ride, or counting how many times you’ll walk around the office park.
– A cold shower will help you cool out. Also, get used to quick showers that are less than five minutes.
-Work out before eating lunch. Exercising without too much food in your stomach, increases your metabolism of body fat.
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