Staying Healthy and Fit When Your Job is Going or Gone
By the end of the 45-minute "boot camp" exercise class, the four remaining participants--down from the eight who had started--were drenched in sweat, out of breath and completely flushed. The consensus: They hadn't felt this good in weeks.
Several hadn't been to the gym for months. They had canceled their gym memberships after they were laid off. So the free class at the New York Sports Club on Wall Street in late January was a welcome gift. It was part of the club's first Career Workout Day, which offered both a job search seminar, by the staffing firm Forrest Solutions, and a workout to invigorate both body and mind.
"I feel amazing. My whole mind-set is different from when I came here," said Rebecca Creason, a talent management professional who has been out of work for four months.
The hope is that Creason and her fellow participants will remember that great feeling through all the frustrations of unemployment and job searching. Many job seekers hunker down, staying at their computer for hours. But uninterrupted job hunting is a bad thing. There's never a more critical time to stay healthy than when you're anxious and depressed after being laid off--or worried that your job may be the next to go.
Exercise gives your brain a much-needed reprieve from sending out résumés and cover letters. In short, the biggest reason to exercise is "sanity," says Nicki Anderson, a personal trainer in Chicago who was named the 2008 personal trainer of the year by the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, an organization for fitness professionals. "So much can be resolved. When you're going through a layoff or worried it will happen, the two biggest factors are stress and depression. Exercise relieves stress and decreases depression."
Exercise releases endorphins, a natural pick-me-up, in your brain. It also releases frustrations and anger, while helping make you stronger and more confident for job interviews. If you can complete a routine like the kind of lengthy exercise sequence commonly called boot camp--which will keep you jumping, running, contorting and lifting weights for nearly an hour--you'll feel you can accomplish just about anything.
That's why Amie Hoff, a New York Sports Club trainer and an event organizer, selected boot camp for Career Workout Day. "We wanted to show them that they can overcome a challenge," she said. "When you're able to do that, you feel euphoric."
An additional benefit of getting to the gym is the networking that can occur. "The business cards were definitely coming out," Hoff said.
Of course, if you're out of work you may feel you can't afford to continue gym membership. Nicki Anderson recommends talking to your gym's management about your predicament. Some places will give you a discount for a period. (The Career Workout Day participants were given a complimentary week at the gym.)
If that's not an option, she says, go to the library to borrow exercise videos. Also, on any winter day when it's above freezing and there's no snow or ice, go for a brisk walk or run. Round up a group of friends to join you so you'll feel even more motivated. "It's a support system and exercise at the same time," she says.
Anderson also recommends getting the elastic straps known as resistance bands. They're inexpensive--under $15--and come with instructions for exercises you can do at home to build muscle.
If you have trouble getting motivated, exercise for short spurts, like 10 or 20 minutes, Anderson says. Chances are, you'll feel so good that you'll continue on.
Exercise is just one part of the health equation, though. Diet is equally important. Avoid the temptation to rely on inexpensive fast food. Sure, french fries and fried chicken can be comforting, but they will hurt your energy level in the long run.
"Food has a direct relationship to mood," says Tara Gidus, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Avoid white bread and white pasta, she says, because "those will give you mood shifts. They give you instant energy, but then you crash."
You want energy for the long haul. Replace those refined foods with whole wheat bread and pasta, fruits and vegetables, lean steak and chicken breasts.
Does that sound expensive? You can always eat healthfully on a budget. To start, buy fruits and vegetables that are in season, since they usually cost less than, say, blueberries in the middle of winter. If you crave blueberries anyway, remember that frozen fruits and vegetables have full nutritional value and are a whole lot cheaper. Also, keep an eye out for sale items to stock up on.
For a rare treat, splurge on a short massage. Exercise and stretching will only go so far to release the tension in those tight shoulder muscles. You definitely want to feel confident and happy. It will even come across in job interviews.