Teacher fitness is an important goal, but finding time to exercise when you're in the classroom all day can be tough. Squeezing it in before school means getting up even earlier than you do already, while trying to work out after school may add a couple of hours to your already packed day.
There are ways for teachers to stay fit by infusing exercise into their school days. Maybe a few of these ideas will work for you!
1. Go Walk!
Walking is one of the easiest, most effective, and most accessible forms of exercise for teachers. Some teachers walk the halls before the kids arrive or after they leave. Slip on a pair of good sneakers with whatever you're wearing and take a few laps around the building. Take the stairs if possible!
Many teachers wear a Fitbit or other activity tracker so they know how many steps they've taken or how many laps around the building equal a mile. I know teachers who walk outside during lunchtime when the weather cooperates. Some say that walking clears their heads and energizes them for classes after lunch.
2. Invite Colleagues to Exercise With You
Chances are that you're not the only teacher in your school who wishes they had more time to exercise. Invite colleagues to join a workout club that regularly meets after school. Veteran health and nutrition teacher Nora Howley says the camaraderie and commitment of others provide positive reinforcement for everyone. There's "safety in numbers," she says, for teachers who may not feel comfortable exercising in an open school setting.
Further reading: 5 REALISTIC Ways for Teachers to Get Healthier This Year
At my school, one of our teachers offered yoga instruction once a week in her classroom after school. Both male and female teachers enrolled in the class. Another school where I worked allowed teachers to use the fitness room after school if sports teams weren't using it. A friend of mine also told me that at her school, a group of teachers got together to bring in a fitness instructor once a week for a small fee. Working out with others can be a lot more fun than exercising alone!
3. Make the Most of Time at Your Desk
Exercising at your desk can be another effective way to stay fit, says Jessica Smith in Shape magazine. Smith describes several "sneaky seated moves" that result in a "total-body cardio and strength workout." Exercises range from seated jumping jacks to "running" at your desk. "Burning muscles," she says, prove that you're getting a workout.
Several elementary teachers I know regularly get kids up and moving for a few minutes after they've spent an hour working at their desks. Teachers join kids in stretching or jumping jacks, and after 10 minutes, everyone—including the teacher—is ready to get back to work.
As a secondary teacher, I found that leaving my desk and getting out in the hall between classes got me moving and helped me clear my head for the next class. In a more dramatic move, a few teachers I know have added a stand-up desk to their classroom to reduce the time they spend sitting. One fitness expert even suggests replacing your desk chair with a large yoga ball. Of course, there may be downsides to this idea if you're not really agile!
4. Exercise Your Brain
We know that regular exercise plays a big part in teacher fitness, helping you feel better both physically and mentally. Lately, meditation and mindfulness have become more popular and accessible through apps.
Headspace, for example, is an app that offers three to 10 minutes of daily meditation exercises. I know teachers who use the app in the quiet of their classroom before the day starts. One teacher has used it for over a year now and says that those few minutes of mindfulness and reflection help her focus and start the day on a positive note.
5. Practice Healthy Eating
Of course, teacher fitness requires both exercise and a healthy diet. If you can pack your own lunch with low-fat yogurt or a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread and fresh fruit, you can avoid extra calories. Check out The Kindergartener Connection and Laugh Eat Learn for great suggestions for teacher lunches, including taking snacks for lunch, preparing lunches on the weekends, and making Pinterest-worthy salad jars.
Having lunch at school might be more feasible than making meals in advance for some teachers. If your school offers a salad bar or a sandwich board, it's easier to make healthy lunch choices. But if you've skipped breakfast and are ravenous, it's hard to avoid extra calories. Some teachers keep healthy snacks like breakfast bars, fruit, or granola in their desks just in case they are pressed for time in the morning. As for the occasional faculty room treats like cookies, doughnuts, or birthday cupcakes—if you can't resist or want to be sociable, just have half!
6. Set Aside Time for You
You can exercise at school if you schedule it like you would schedule a meeting. Think of it as essential time for you to reduce stress and put it on your calendar to do it. The importance of you doing this is underscored by congressional representatives recognizing that teacher stress and poor health is hazardous to you, your job, and therefore, your students.
Congress introduced The Teacher Health and Wellness Act last year, after several congressional findings including the fact that teachers with high levels of stress are less effective in raising student achievement than their healthier peers. The bill requires the director of the National Institutes of Health to carry out a five-year study exploring innovative approaches that could reduce teacher stress, and therefore, increase teacher retention and well-being in schools.
Further reading: Steps to Take If You Want to Be a Healthy Teacher
We know that teachers are often focused on others' needs, rather than their own, which adds to teacher stress. But consider that your self-care does contribute to others' needs by your inspirational example. So calendar those workouts at school for everyone's benefit!