It’s 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night and you just finished cleaning your station and you’re headed out the door. You’ve been at work since noon to help pick up the slack from an absent co-worker. In addition, the Sous Chef has been on you all night demanding perfection from you. Johnny Quick and Susie Shuffle mention that they know the bartender down the street and have ensured that you will get your money’s worth tonight if you go out with them. Do you go out and get plastered tonight, making tomorrow’s day of work that more daunting? Do you go to the late night gym or get to bed early to exercise in the morning? It’s a tough decision in the moment but if you take the time to weigh out the long-term effects, I’m hoping you would make the decision for exercise. If not, let me try to persuade you.
Exercise isn’t just for the protein drinking, sun tan lotion wearing, macro counting, bodybuilding extraordinaire. It’s for the average person who’s worked a long day for low wages who wants to keep their mind and body in the best condition that they can to prolong their life. Exercise isn’t just about fitting into the swimsuit you want for the summer or shaping those “guns” for the sun. It also has benefits that deal directly with the stressors of a demanding fast pace working environment. This is certainly true when that job takes 10 hours out of your day and one extra teaspoon of an ingredient in the wrong dish can make that day disastrous.
It’s no secret that drugs and alcohol are problems within our cooking community. Cooks, chefs, and bakers are all looking for ways to relieve some stress and far too often they lean on drugs and alcohol. The non-profit medical practice and medical research group, Mayo Clinic, said it best about exercise: “It’s meditation in motion”. The good thing about using exercise as a form of meditation is that virtually any activity done for fitness can be used. Whether it be swimming, running, Zumba, jiu jitsu, bicycling, or hiking; your mind is off of the stress that you have been put through for the day. You will be focused on the task at hand and not about that pan sauce that you burned or that cake that you left in the oven too long. The time spent on not thinking about your errors will allow you to reset and refocus. The time that you spend meditating in motion will eventually turn into physical progress.
The physical progress or “gains” can turn into positives in the kitchen. Your body will be more adept to handling physical stressors at work because those stressors won’t be as profound anymore. If Johnny Quick occasionally lifts 30 pounds only to lift the stock pot then that 30 pound stock pot may be an issue for him. It’s not something that his body is used to doing, so physically it becomes more of a stressor. Now, if Susie Shuffle happens to go to the gym and routinely lifts 70 pounds then that 30 pound stockpot is not going to be as big as a problem for her as it was for Johnny Quick. Additionally, Susie’s body will be able to handle the environmental stresses of the kitchen such as high heat.
The last issue that I want to highlight is the diet that we eat while working. A lot of us can’t eat while we are working. If we do, it may be something that was unsuitable for a patron, family meal, or whatever is left after service. Also, who wants to cook after working 10-12 hours? This brings convenience foods into play like pizza, burgers, and prepackaged ramen. None of those practices are part of a healthy diet. However, exercise can help combat some of the negative effects of eating poorly. The American Heart Association recommends exercising at least 30 minutes a day, five days out of the week. They also mention that something is better than nothing. Don’t think that just because you can’t fit or do 30 minutes of activity 5 days of the week that you shouldn’t do anything at all. What would be most important in that scenario is that you start.
We’ve went over a few reasons why exercising can be a good thing in the culinary world. This is in spite of working long hours and eating infrequently. Exercising can help you relieve mental and physical stress. This leaves you more prepared for work and life. Exercise can extend your life expectancy by making sure your cardiovascular organs are working at an optimal state. You can also meet awesome people at the gym. Exercise isn’t just something you should do to prepare for summer, but something that you should do for life—your life. It can help combat depression. It can make a person more productive. Exercise can even help a person understand that even though they may be tired that they can keep pushing and get the job done. It’s important to exercise when you have a stressful job. The benefits of exercise aren’t just physical. It’s a good way to relieve stress in a healthy manner.