You’re likely no stranger to the huge benefits physical activity brings to our physical health, strength and endurance, and not too long ago we dove into the extensive range of benefits it also brings to our mental health. Today we’re going in one step further to consider its impact on performance and productivity.
One of the top reasons people give for missing a workout is not having enough time. And we totally get it – lockdown or not, the world continues to be busy (for some busier than ever!) and carving out time is an ongoing battle. Unfortunately more often than not that means we end up prioritising work and life admin responsibilities ahead of our health and wellbeing, with our lunchtime workout being the first to go when things suddenly get busy (read: all the time).
To this day, working out remains a luxury that only the ‘blessed’ and ‘lucky’ get to enjoy; it’s a nice-to-have, rather than a must-have. More and more research however shows that regular exercise brings huge benefits to our overall performance and productivity at work, impacting everything from cognition and memory, alertness and energy levels, to motivation and stress levels.
Here are six ways how.
1. YOUR ACTUAL PRODUCTIVITY WILL INCREASE
Alright, let’s start with the big guns. If your reason for skipping the lunchtime sweat is getting more work done, you probably haven’t got all the facts in the right order, yet. And don’t worry – it’s not your fault; in a culture that’s deeply focused on pushing through and pushing right on, it’s easy to think that more is always more, but that’s not always the case when it comes to performance, effort and productivity.
Taking time out for exercise in your day might scale back your active ‘hands on deck’ time at work, but what you’ll find is that the actual productivity of your time committed is greater, and that you’re working better, smarter and more efficiently. And there’s good reason for that – by increasing the amount of blood and oxygen flowing to your brain, this exercise boosts focus, memory and alertness, helping you kick that dreaded brain fog feeling goodbye, clear your head and come back to work feeling fresher and sharper. Clearly a major boost you wouldn’t want to say no to!
2. YOU WILL HAVE MORE ENERGY
Wait, what… Doesn’t exercise drain you of energy?! Well… Yes and no! Technically speaking exercise does require an exertion of effort, but that’s only half the truth… Ever noticed yourself feeling totally re-energised after a good run or workout? That’s because exercise also works to produce energy in your body and the net result is actually greater than the energy you put in. Quick lesson in biology – our bodies are populated by millions of mity little mitochondria that live inside our cells; they’re often referred to as our very own internal ‘power plants’, as they produce energy and fuel our bodies.
One of the key factors influencing the amount of mitochondria we have – along with sound nutrition and good quality sleep – is exercise; the more you move the more mitochondria your body will make and the more efficient it becomes in utilising your energy stores. Fascinating, isn’t it?
This is great news – energy is one of the few universal resources we all want more of in our lives. Energy to show up at work with your A-game, energy to face the challenges of the day and to put our best foot forward… How different would your results, both at work and your personal life, be if you could consistently achieve that? Next time you feel the afternoon slump coming on and your energy levels taking a bit of a dip, lace those running shoes up and get moving!
3. YOU’LL GAIN A GROWTH-BASED MINDSET
Human beings – especially us driven, ambitious, metropolitan folk – love progress and accomplishment. The trouble is however that we’re also strongly wired for comfort and avoiding pain, which often keeps us from moving outside of our comfort zone and doing the difficult – but oh so necessary – tasks to bring us closer to our goals.
The beauty of training is that – no matter where you start – over time you’ll start observing progress; whether it’s doing your first push up off your knees, or lifting a weight you never dreamed of lifting before, you’ll start demonstrating to yourself that you’re capable of a lot more than you thought you were, and pushing through a little discomfort is a small price to pay for the rewards that await on the other side. Before you know it you’ll be setting goals with confidence and enthusiasm, a mindset which will quickly spill over into your work and other areas of your life, helping you achieve more with focus and intention.
4. YOU WILL BE LESS STRESSED
In small doses stress can actually be quite helpful, providing a much-needed, quick source of motivation, energy and even creativity as we rush in a last-minute sprint to get a project over the line. In larger doses however, and over prolonged periods of time, stress isn’t great news at all and, unfortunately, the modern pace of life lends itself to elevated stress levels that often are too much for us to manage. Heightened stress can be really unhelpful from the standpoint of work as it impacts our ability to focus, think clearly, recall information and be resourceful with our ideas, which – frankly – is a major hindrance.
Lucky for you exercise is a very effective (and 100% natural!) stress reducer. A healthy and consistent exercise routine works to bring down the overall levels of adrenaline and cortisol – our stress hormones – in the body. At the same time, by stimulating the production of endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, exercise also works to reduce our overall experience of pain and stress, as well as boost our mood. These effects combined provide a powerful cocktail for building resilience, staying relaxed and keeping a clear head in face of heightened pressures – all essential to staying focused and getting it done!
5. YOU WILL BE MORE MOTIVATED
We all know how much of a difference feeling motivated makes to how we show up in both life and at work, and how difficult it can sometimes be to cultivate that. Motivation is a bit like a self-propelling spiral – one that can work both ways and one that can change course rather quickly! Of course there’s a place for a little indulgence and a guilt-free lazy weekend in our lives, but staying inactive for prolonged periods of time can leave us feeling sluggish, unfit and demotivated, which in turn can really weigh on our energy levels, our confidence and, subsequently, our overall motivation levels. Getting over the tough mental hurdle of your daily workout – whether it’s running, yoga, or walking – is a great way of keeping the wheels in motion and creating positive momentum for yourself.
The key, as ever, is setting the right level of expectation and setting realistic goals for yourself. It’s great being ambitious, but being overly so can be counterproductive; after all motivation is based on the promise of seeking rewards, and striving for something that isn’t sustainable, or plain attainable, isn’t going to be much fun! By setting realistic goals and creating a routine for yourself you’ll feel more confident about your ability to stay on track, and feel more motivated to replicate your success and your discipline in the workplace setting.
6. YOU WILL BE HAPPIER
Did you know that happy employees make for more productive employees? Yes, it’s true – a 2019 study into happiness and productivity from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, has found happy workers to be 13% more productive. OK, and what does exercise have to do with, you might ask? Exercise plays a crucial role in stimulating the production of endorphins – our natural “feel-good chemicals”, as well as dopamine and serotonin – the so called “happy hormones”, which – as their nicknames might have you guess – naturally work to lift your mood and increase feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Being in that happier state of mind will naturally lend itself to all areas of your life – work included, boosting your motivation, satisfaction and even your relationship-building skills. A well-rounded winner!
We totally understand how difficult it can be to carve out time in your day and – the truth is – there will be days when deadlines and appointments get the better of us and finding that time really will be impossible. But next time you’re toying with the idea of skipping your lunchtime workout because of time, look back to this article and take a moment to consider whether you absolutely cannot afford to take that break.
Ask yourself – how much time will taking that break really cost you? Then ask another question – how much productivity loss is not taking that break going to cost you? Can you really not make time for a quick 20-minute workout? Because that 20 minutes can go a really long way in giving you the reset you need and have you getting back down to business feeling fresh and energised again.