Staying fit on the job

August 07, 2019
Lacy Wolff, health promotion administrator at ERSBy Lacy Wolff

As the health promotion administrator at ERS, I have the opportunity to showcase innovative wellness initiatives. At the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, a PAT approach to staying fit for duty is equal parts exercise and inspiration. Even if you’re not subject to the PAT, there are still NEAT ways for you to stay fit while working.

David Yebra, director of the newly created Training and Leader Development Division at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), believes that “old-school” methods can best prepare today’s correctional officers for their often physically rigorous jobs.

TDCJ’s new Physical Agility Test (PAT), designed by Yebra, simulates many of the movements that can ready correctional staff for a confrontation. For example, the PAT requires one to be able to push off the ground, in one explosive movement, from the lying-face-up and lying-face-down positions. Another requirement needed to pass: sprinting while carrying a 45 lb. sandbag.

The PAT has no time requirement—one needs only to finish the test to “pass” it, Yebra stated. Some people end the PAT by walking across the finish line—and that is celebrated just as loudly as when someone runs to the end. 

I joined them on June 20, 2019. I arrived at Pritchett Field at 8 a.m. on a sunny morning. Greeted by rock-and roll-music and a motivated group of trainers, I ran the PAT in one minute, 30 seconds.

group shot of TDCJ employees
TDCJ prioritizes wellness. These TDCJ employees just passed the new physical agility test (PAT) designed by Director David Yebra, (front row, kneeling, far right). ERS Health Promotion Administrator Lacy Wolff is in the front row, second from the right.

TDCJ has decided to reward high levels of performance as a way to encourage continued physical fitness. Yebra completed the course at a blazing one minute, 12 seconds, which became the “time to beat.” Two participants completed the assessment in less time, earning eight hours of leave, a certificate for their personnel file and a distinguished fitness pin to wear on their uniform.

Your fitness: Get moving at work

Of course, you don’t have to run a physical agility test to stay fit at work. There are simple ways to get moving, which can improve fitness. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise.

Rather than carving an extra 60 or 90 minutes out of your day, get NEAT: explore activities that you already do and figure out ways to fit more activity into them. If you know you will be spending eight to 10 hours of your day at work, think of ways you can increase activity at the workplace.

Here are some strategies:
  • Use your breaks or lunch time to for walks with a friend, good audio book, podcast or music that inspires you. When the weather is nice, walk outside. When walking outside isn’t an option, map out a path that will allow you to get in some steps, such as by walking the inner perimeter of a building or up and down the stairs.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator. 
  • If available, use a standing desk for a few hours of each day. If you don't have a standing desk, discuss your options for getting one with your supervisor.
  • Do a seven-minute workout a couple of times during the day. You could do this as a teambuilding activity with your co-workers. Check out this 7- Minute Workout  on YouTube. It features a full body workout—no equipment required.   
  • Get a fitness tracker and set a goal that is reasonable. If you normally only move 4,000 steps a day, set a goal for 5,000 or 6,000. Aiming too high can be discouraging. 
  • Lead your team in three stretches before you start your next staff meeting.  
Physical activity can be anything from dancing to gardening to walking. As a general rule, the lower the intensity of the activity, the more of it we need to do. Current recommendations for physical activity from the American College of Sports Medicine are a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous intensity activity. If you are working moderately, you should be able to talk to someone but not sing a song.  If you are working vigorously, you should not be able to talk. 

If you have a strategy for staying physically fit that you would like to share, please email me at .