Working It Out at Work

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Two weeks ago, we asked readers to tell us how their employers aided or thwarted their efforts to pursue fitness. We expected to hear about pedometers, lunchtime walks, company fitness centers and yoga classes.

We did.

But we did not expect to hear about the death tube.

No mortality is involved, of course. It's just part of the group activity habit at Pixels & Ink, a design firm in Alexandria.

"On a few Fridays during the warm weather season," wrote P&I staffer Camden Richards in an e-mail, "we close the office a bit early and head out in our boss's boat for an afternoon of 'death tube' (i.e., being dragged behind the boat at high speeds on the tube until we are thrown off), water-skiing and swimming."

We know, we know: Most of us are only metaphorically dragged behind our bosses at high speeds to near-death. But Pixels & Ink's staff gets the real thing -- along with top-level support for organized sports, biking to work and midday runs. The boss himself is a triathlete.

Perhaps not surprisingly, many fitness-friendly workplaces we heard about have a top dog who supports healthy living and walks the walk, so to speak.

Of course, it's not all sweetness and light in the corner office. For instance, one employee who asked not to be identified by name praised her boss for setting a good example by cycling to work. But she found it "disconcerting" to see him in spandex shorts. (Note to all: When it comes to workplace fitness attire, there's little downside to modesty).

Michelle Davis, who just left the employ of Education Week, wrote about how the Bethesda-based publisher hires fitness instructors to offer classes in the building's small gym. Benefits went beyond the cardiovascular.

"I met and became friends with people who didn't work in my department who I would never have gotten to know otherwise," Davis wrote. Managers "treat you like adults. If you have your work done, [the attitude was,] by all means go take a class or run on the [nearby Capital Crescent] trail on a nice afternoon."

Some people were able to work things out despite all-consuming jobs. An attorney with a high-gloss District law firm kept missing her midday workouts due to the press of business. She bit the bullet and started waking up early to hit the firm's in-house gym. "I'm less stressed because traffic is lighter during the morning commute," she wrote, and the a.m. workout helps her "get mentally organized for the rest of the day."

Speaking of individual initiative, we loved the note from Ed Hazelwood, editorial director for Aviation Week Conference & Television in the District, a unit of McGraw-Hill. The firm provides a locked bike cage in the parking garage, has a small gym and offers discounted memberships to off-campus health clubs. Hazelwood reports having biked 2,709 miles, and losing 20 pounds, while commuting this year. But there's more.

"I keep two sets of dumbbells in the office," he wrote. "Every other day the computer chimes a reminder to knock out bicep curls, triceps pushes and a military lift. In 10 minutes without leaving the desk I feel better."

Then he bikes home. "I get home sweaty, feeling great, and the stress of the day got dropped somewhere back along Four Mile Run."

Inspiring. Let's hope the biking shorts are modest.

-- Craig Stoltz

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