6 Of The Best Exercises For Clearing Your Head After Work

How to shake off the mind-set of 'work-mode'

09/10/2017 10:00 BST | Updated 09/10/2017 16:00 BST

When you hear about people who frequently travel for work it’s easy to think it’s all glamour, all the time: four and five-star hotels, airport lounges, exciting cities, gourmet meals, high-powered meetings.

Thing is, when you’re actually travelling on business, the reality can be somewhat less alluring. You’re exhausted, busy and stressed, most of the time. Often, you’re in two or three cities in a 24-hour period, spending long, dreary days in a conference room. The closest you’re getting to the sights? An upward glance at the skyline from the back of your taxicab at dusk.

Even when your schedule is unpredictable, it’s crucial to maintain a routine and (attempt a) healthy lifestyle when you’re travelling. Which means not living off packs of Doritos, beer and chocolate bars. 

It also means that your exercise regimen when travelling should include more than running across an airport terminal to avoid missing a flight.

“A helpful way to understand how to switch off from ‘work mode’ when travelling is to look at how your brain and autonomic nervous system work,” explains fitness guru and personal trainer Matt Roberts.

“Your brain function can be broken down into one of two categories: sympathetic activity (often called ‘fight or flight’ activity) and parasympathetic activity (often called ‘rest and digest’ activity).

“When we’re in ‘work mode’ most of us tend to be too ‘sympathetic’. Chronic sympathetic activity means we produce stress hormones like cortisol which, over a prolonged period of time, can be detrimental to health. To address this, we therefore need to make the time to engage in activities that promote a more parasympathetic state - essentially things that get us out of ‘work mode’.”

Here are the exercises and activities you should be doing to clear your head and shake off that ‘work-mode’ mindset.

  • Master A Few Yoga Poses
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    It’s no big secret that a hectic work travel schedule (flights, sleeping in a different bed each night, rushing from meeting to meeting with no time to decompress) can take a toll on mind and body, causing symptoms from back pain - a typical side effect of sitting hunched at a desk all day - to anxiety and stress. It’s also no big shocker that a bit of yoga each day can do mind and body a world of good.

    But those travelling on business don’t always have an hour-and-a-half to spare in the middle of the day to head off to a Vinyasa class. Happily, there are lots of ways to do yoga at home (or in the comfort of your hotel room, or office). Get downloading: there's a plethora of yoga apps out there which teach you basic poses and have plenty of 10-minute workouts on offer. 

    According to PT Matt Roberts, mid-business trip is probably not the moment to try out the craziest workout of your life (for all of you heading to NYC and thinking about that 6am SoulCycle class).

    “To achieve a parasympathetic (restful) state, it’s more appropriate to consider the type of exercise or activity rather than any one exercise. For example, aim to stay away from anything that feels too intense and instead opt for more relaxing, movement-based activities. Yoga and Pilates can be a good idea in this regard,” he advises. 

    Some poses to try anytime, anywhere, include half dog pose, where you bend the top half of your body over against a wall or desk – essential for stretching out your back after you've been sitting on a plane for hours – and a Warrior II lunge, where one leg is bent in front and your back foot is at a 45-degree angle. Keep hips square and stretch arms out to the front and back. It's a must for strengthening your quadriceps and calves, opening your hips, establishing core stability and helping you dissolve tensions and stress.
  • Do Some Circuits
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    Feeling totally wiped out after days on the road? Kick-start your workday with a low-intensity circuit workout.

    "Boost endorphins with a short, sharp 10-minute session consisting of a low-maintenance circuit session," explains fitness expert and personal trainer, Laura Williams.

    "Combine shuttle runs, shadow boxing and skipping with body weight exercises such as walking lunges and squats, push-ups and planks. This will help you to ‘come to’ in the morning if jet lag’s an issue."
  • Embrace Meditation
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    Remember: Headspace isn't just an app anymore, it's a state of being. One that's very useful for training you to tune out the world wherever you happen to be. Starting the day with a few breathing exercises - or doing a couple of minutes' meditation before a big meeting - is also helpful for getting you away from all that tech (the laptop, the smartphones, the tablet, and all of the accouterments that go with them), you seem unable to function without. For at least a few minutes.

    "Switching off can be made easier with simple breathing exercises: simply inhaling for a count of five before exhaling for a count of five for a few minutes is surprisingly effective, while yoga poses such as child’s pose (kneeling on the floor and sitting on your heels with toes together and knees apart), corpse pose (lying flat on your back with your heels spread out) and cat pose (rounding your spine up from a tabletop position on all fours) can stretch out the body, helping to release areas of tension," advises Williams.
  • Be One With Nature
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    It's easy to forget to engage with the outside world when you're in a particularly stressful work situation, but one way to clear your mind and get out of your office-zone mentality - as well as take in the new city you're visiting - is to go for a walk. Preferably barefoot. Take your shoes off and stroll around the park or a patch of grass. It's got a name - "grounding" or "earthing" - and a celeb following (Bond girl Naomie Harris swears it's a great way to get travellers to grips with their new time zone). True adherents claim it can also help with insomnia, pain and promote healing. Mostly it just makes you feel like a kid again - which isn't a bad thing.  

    "There’s never one answer for all as people’s fitness levels will determine how intense or relaxing they find certain activities," says Roberts.   "For some people, walking barefoot for 20 minutes on some grass will do the trick, for others, a low-intensity body weight circuit might be more appropriate."
  • Get Downloading
    Todor Tsvetkov via Getty Images
    Going on an extended work trip may have been an excuse to skip the workouts several years ago, but now, with an app for everything - and a workout under 10 minutes to suit every fitness style - there are really no excuses. Especially considering how easy it is to track your health (steps, heart rate, etc.) through your phone or wearable.

    "Easy-to-follow apps such as the 7-minute workout can mean the difference between failure and success when you’re in travel mode but don’t want to skip your fitness completely," says Williams.

    "When you’re either in go-slow holiday mode or jam-packed work mode, a small time commitment for a step-by-step guided programme can be enough to keep muscle mass and fitness levels ticking over." And yes, these are easy enough to do in your comfy hotel room before heading to work or at the end of a busy day. Many apps don't even require you to have any equipment. Also worth a try? The free and easy YouTube channels that will have you doing everything from HIIT to ballet... in any time zone.
  • Start Cycling
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    From the streets of China's Hangzou to San Francisco, bike share schemes are making it easier than ever to navigate cities on two wheels. Recent research published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management confirms that commuting to work by bike helps you start your day with less stress - and may have lasting positive effects throughout the day as well. Of course, cycling isn't always a practical option for everyone, every day, but if you can start or end your workday abroad with a bike ride, you'll feel fit, mentally decompressed and you might even discover something interesting about that city you've just spent the day in.