Can Exercise and Physical Activity Make You a Better Lawyer?
When The Office tackled workplace safety, office folks were cautioned to wear a cardigan and to get up from their desk 10 minutes every hour to avoid eye strain and carpal tunnel. Of course, the warehouse folks were both amused and annoyed by the perceived dangers of working in an office when they faced real dangers, like heavy equipment and machinery. Obviously, hilarity ensued when the boss, Michael Scott, faked depression as a result of the “stress of his modern office.”
The unfortunate reality of our profession is that is can be extremely stressful and overwhelming at times. When you have multiple deadlines on several different cases, you become hyper aware of all that you need to get done and where you’re falling behind. That stress can sometimes give you a boost of energy to clear your plate, but it can also lead to feelings of depression and anxious.
There is no question that being an attorney is a stressful job. We are often tasked with completing more work in a set timeframe than is humanly possible. Stress, anxiety and depression are among the leading complaints for lawyers. In fact, a Johns Hopkins University study, cited by the ABA Journal, found that lawyers were 3.6 times more likely to be depressed than the other professions that were studied.
Could leading a more active lifestyle curb the depression, anxiety and stress? The truth is that attorneys spend much of their time at a desk. Even the trial lawyer who walks from their nearby office and then paces around a courtroom spends hours reading, researching, writing and preparing for that trial while seated. And more often than not, lawyers are not only sitting behind their desks from 8 to 5, but for a few hours in the evening as well. It’s hard to find the time to exercise when it seems like there are always a million and one other, more important, things to do.
It is well established that there are psychological benefits to exercise. I mean, we’ve all seen Legally Blonde, right? Endorphins make you happy. But practically speaking, how does a very busy lawyer squeeze in time to be more active when there’s no such thing as “spare” time?
I decided to test the theory. Could I force myself to be more active during my workday? How would this make me feel? Less stressed? More Zen? Like a lunatic pacing around a small office? My mom, bless her heart, purchased a fitness tracker for me for Christmas. It was unsolicited. At first I was unsure of how I should feel about such a gift. Glad that my mom so kindly selected a gift she thought I’d like? Or offended that perhaps my mom thinks I should shed a few pounds? Either way, I decided to embrace the gift. I loaded the app onto my phone and excitedly watched the numbers change as I tested out the pedometer feature. I wasn’t sure then if it would be something that I enjoyed over the long haul, but I was keeping an open mind.
One of the best features about this particular fitness tracker is that one of the preset “goals” is to take at least 250 steps per hour during the workday. That’s not very many steps, but when the only walking that you’re doing is back and forth to the coffee pot, it’s harder than it sounds. Ten minutes before the hour is up, it gives a little buzz if you haven’t hit 250 steps that hour so that you can get up and get moving if you want to hit your target.
The first workday that I wore the fitness tracker, I was honestly surprised by how little I moved. I had a three-hour stretch where I took less than 250 steps each hour. That means that for the vast majority of that three-hour stretch, I was sitting at my desk in front of my computer, probably with bad posture. I’ll admit, I did feel a little shamed by my fitness tracker. I’ve been using the fitness tracker for a few weeks now, and I still have to make a concerted effort to get up and walk during the workday. I made it a point to take my phone calls up walking around and to step away from my desk each hour to take care of other matters for a few minutes, even if it’s just to go check the mail.
Using the fitness tracker during my workday has made me mindful of my activity level, which is an improvement. Because I’m aware of how truly sedentary I am during the workday, I now make a point to exercise at other times. I’m not saying that buying a fitness tracker or even getting up from your desk each hour will cure all of your stress, but perhaps you, too, are moving even less during your workday than you are aware. Taking a few minutes to step away from your desk to stretch and move around could benefit you both physically and psychologically. And in the long term, being your best self, both physically and psychologically, makes it much more likely that you’re also being the best lawyer that you can be.
If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, consider speaking to someone at BarCares. BarCARES is a confidential, short-term intervention program provided cost-free to members of participating judicial district bars, voluntary bar associations and law schools. Call 919-929-1227 or 1-800-640-0735 or visit BarCares.org.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success. Anyone who has ever met Jared will tell you h