Karen Pfaff, 49, starts her workdays at her Government Center office like many
Bostonians, clocking in early, then sitting at a desk for hours, counting down until her noontime lunch break.
But instead of hankering for a midday meal, Pfaff, a nursing case manager, looks forward to slinging her workout bag over her shoulder and heading to the local Boston Sports Club for an intense hour of cardio drills, an exercise class, or a personal training session.
“I get that extra boost from the exercise during the day,” Pfaff said. “I find that afterward, my sleep and eating choices are better. If I put the effort in and work out and am sore, I really make that extra effort throughout the day.”
As Americans increasingly try to squeeze exercise into their daily schedules, Pfaff is joining many local professionals who have turned to their lunch hour as their workout time.
The trend is evident in a swelling of lunchtime fitness classes and programming around Boston, and as city health officials seek to encourage office workers to get active during the day.
“I’ve definitely seen an increase in my classes,” said Goldie Kaufenberg, a popular yoga instructor who has taught midday classes at Back Bay Yoga for the past five years. “A lot of people are choosing to eat lunch at their desk and use their lunch hour to take a yoga class or get a run in by the river.”
In the past year, the Boston Public Health Commission has expanded efforts to get employees to work out during the day. The commission has started walking and stair-climbing competitions at its office, and in the past year has given employees an extra hour at lunch on Fridays to fit in a workout.
“There is some evidence that these kinds of activities help people be more productive at work, and put them in a better mood about being in the workplace,” said Anne McHugh, director of the Boston Public Health Commission’s chronic disease prevention and control division. “It all adds up.”
The benefits were so appealing that the commission last year compiled tips on how to incorporate workday workouts into office culture, such as taking stretch or activity breaks during meetings or installing standing desks, said Jose Masso, director of active living and wellness at the commission. The tips have been distributed to other organizations and businesses.
Masso said that offering employees time for regular exercise could pay future dividends for companies, leading to workers taking fewer sick days.
“We want to make it as easy as possible,” Masso said about providing daytime exercise opportunities.
Masso said the city’s Parks & Recreation Department has also boosted its fitness program to offer free afternoon workouts, including Zumba and Tai Chi, at various Boston parks from June through August, as the outdoor events have proved popular in recent years. A full list of events can be found at www.boston
The lunchtime workout rush has also been evident at other local gyms and fitness studios. Bron Volney, a trainer and instructor at Boston Sports Club at Government Center, said the majority of the circuit and interval-style classes he teaches now take place around noon, as the club added more midday classes in response to petitions and demand from members.
“Noontime is busy as heck,” Volney said, adding that the lunchtime crowd is second only to the after-work crowd. “People love to come and do a quick workout and head out real quick. They feel that high from the endorphins, and go back to work and feel more motivated to be there.”
Estimating that about 70 percent of noontime class attendees are professionals on their lunch break, Volney said he tries to cram intense full-body workouts into 45 minutes so members have time to get back to the office.
Some fitness professionals said lunch classes spike especially when the price is right. Back Bay Yoga offers inexpensive drop-in afternoon classes, ranging from $5 to $10. The lunchtime classes now regularly attract between 20 and 40 people, said owner Lynne Begier, a drastic increase from when the studio first added lunch classes to the schedule years ago.
“People are busier,” Begier said.
Experts say that to get the full benefits of exercise, it doesn’t matter what time of day you do it, it matters that you’re consistent. Working out on your lunch hour might just aid in creating that regularity.
Jessica Bashelor, owner and manager of The Handle Bar spin studios in South Boston and Fenway, said she began offering discounted midday spin classes this spring and saw attendance double from between seven and 14 people per class to about 15 to 20.
“It gets a different group of people, and more consistent faces,” she said.
RETURN TO WORK REFRESHED — AND FRESHENED
Jessica Bashelor, owner and manager of The Handle Bar spin studios, has a few tips for those who exercise midday and need to freshen up before rushing back to work or class:
Use the bathroom sink as an impromptu shower. “Here we have face wash and soap and lotion, so I just freshen up in the bathroom,” Bashelor said.
Always wear clean workout clothes. “It’s only when you sit around in stinky clothes and don’t wash your clothes that you’ll start to smell,” Bashelor said.
Dry sweaty hair. “Give your hair a good brush-through,” she said, adding that the walk back to work or class can double as time to air-dry long locks.
Check into shower facilities at your company. “A lot of office buildings have their own workout facilities and showers, so you can look into it and see if you can shower when you get back” to work, she said.
Other tips include using “dry shampoo” if you don’t have time to wash sweaty hair, and disposable body wipes to wash away sweat if you don’t have time to take a shower.