How exercising improves your work productivity

It's common knowledge that exercise keeps us fit and healthy.

But did you know that it also boosts your work productivity (both short and long term)? There’s a reason why the top performing companies give their staff access to a gym… 

Benefits of exercise on work productivity

Mental health management

Mental health struggles such as anxiety and depression can affect your productivity by preventing you from focusing on work, making you constantly doubt yourself or unable to handle stress in your workplace.

When you exercise your brain releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates your mood and social behaviour. Individuals suffering from depression often have low serotonin levels. Which is why you are usually in a better mood and feel less stressed out after your workout. 

Better physical health

Bad health is one of the worst enemies of productivity. Studies show over and over again that living an active lifestyle is the best form of prevention against chronic illness such as heart diseases, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis...

Health issues linked to obesity can also alter productivity. In the US, obesity is estimated to cost $1.24 trillion in lost productivity per year. How to prevent obesity? You know it, exercise is part of the solution.

Not only exercise helps you take care of your long-term health but it also boosts your immune system, making you more resistant to colds and stomach flus. The less ill you are, the more energy you have for work and the less sick days you need to take.

Higher alertness and energy

Being alert and feeling full of energy obviously help you stay on top of your game and ultra productive at work. Guess what: exercising helps you with that. Indeed, when you work out, your blood flow to the brain increases which is making you feel mentally sharper.

That energised, post-workout feeling that you get is partly due to endorphins being released but also to higher levels of mitochondria especially after aerobic activity. WTF are these? They are a component of most of your cells and are essential to energy production. Basically exercising helps generate more mitochondria, which not only boost your physical energy but also your mental output at work.

Physical activity also increases your levels of BDNF, a protein that improves your cognitive abilities. Think long-term: as we get older we gradually generate less brain cells (this is called neurogenesis) but studies suggest that exercising can help slow this process down. In other words, you'll most likely be more alert than sedentary co-workers in your 50's or 60's.

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Okay so, how to work out to maximise work productivity?

A study from Australia seems to have found the winning formula for improving your cognition and be a better decision-maker at work: 30 minutes of aerobic exercise in the morning and short walking breaks during the day.

It shows that a short break (a casual, 3 minute walk is enough!) every 30min during a working day (assuming you spend most of your time sitting at your desk) helps maintain optimal cognitive abilities throughout the day.

The key takeaway? "Relatively simple changes to your daily routine could have a significant benefit to your cognitive health".

According to a study from Leeds Metropolitan University, evidence suggests that exercising during work hours might help with performance and productivity.

The researchers had over 200 employees (from several companies) self-report their daily performance and compared the results (days when they exercised and days when they didn't). As you can guess, they were able to manage their time better therefore be more productive on the days they were hitting the gym. They also reported feeling much more satisfied at the end of the day.

This is why more and more companies - caring about your health and also your productivity- either have a gym within their building or provide their staff with a free/discounted membership at a nearby gym.

That being said, the best time to work out is the one that works for you. Whether you exercise before work, during your lunch break or at night, you’ll still feel the benefits on your work productivity.

Stop saying "I'm too busy to work out".

We've all tried to convince ourselves that we don't have enough time to go to the gym on a busy week. Although it sounds like a good idea to skip a workout and catch up on work and emails, making some time for the gym (even a short 30min session) is actually the best thing you can do.

You'll clear your mind, release some stress, get a boost of energy, soak in more information and therefore be much more productive.

It's time to start changing your mindset towards exercise. It's not some selfish time away from your desk; it is actually something that will make you a better asset in your work place. Think about exercise as a part of your job and you'll find it easier to make time for the gym :) 


Harvard Business Review  

Leeds Metropolitain University study

 Psychology Today