Afternoon slumps that even espresso can’t ward off, distracting “water cooler” chats you can’t help but butt your head into, ridiculously uncomfortable office chairs, and not a moment of silence.
It’s no surprise that the average worker is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes during every eight-hour shift — or just 36% of their workday.
But the answer isn’t noise-canceling headphones, Mozart tracks on a loop, fidget spinners in your top desk drawer, or a daring (and pink-slip-worthy) 15-minute nap in the breakroom.
These statistics and research tidbits prove once and for all that exercise can improve work productivity (as if we needed to convince you to hit the gym and pump iron!).
Table of Contents
- Exercise and Productivity
- Benefits of Exercise in the Workplace
Exercise and Productivity
- Regular exercise can improve your well-being beyond the physical perks; it also enhances the affective (mood & attitude) and cognitive (memory & concentration) processes.
- Exercising on workdays can boost your time management skills and daily completed workload by an impressive 72%.
- If you want to increase your on-the-clock productivity, low-intensity exercise (like a 30-minute cycling session) is more effective than high-intensity alternatives (like sprints).
- Walking can help you breakthrough creativity lulls, like those common with writer’s block or when attempting to solve a complex problem. Studies show that creativity skyrocketed for 81%, 88%, and 100% of people when they ditched the chair and got moving!
How Exercise Improves Mood
If you’ve ever woken up late, gotten stuck behind a tractor-trailer parade, spilled your coffee on your lap, or forgot an important deadline the day of, you know this feeling very well:
“I really just don’t want to be here today.”
The day only spirals out of control from there. The copier runs out of ink, your boss wants to meet you one-on-one, the WiFi is spotty — it’s an absolute mess, and your productivity dips further.
But an early morning or lunchtime workout might just change things. And, you owe it all to those mood-lifting chemicals in your brain known as endorphins.
Whether you’re pumping iron or jogging laps around the complex, the exercise triggers the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
Together, they offer a stress-relieving, calming, and euphoric effect. This endorphin rush may continue for up to two hours post-exercise, even if your workout only lasted 20 minutes.
A better ability to cope with your daily stressors, allow stress to roll off your shoulders, and more motivation to persevere throughout the workday.
The Cognitive Benefits of Exercise
The cognitive benefits go hand-in-hand with mood-boosting perks of physical activity, especially when we’re talking about the workplace.
That’s because physical exercise helps:
- Ramp up blood flow to the brain
- Reduce the circulation of stress hormones (like cortisol)
- Thicken the cerebral cortex, responsible for thought processes and memory
- Encourage growth factor release to aid brain cell health
- Lessen the risk of diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s
And, research suggests that you can experience a short-term (and immediate) brainpower boost with just ten minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise — with an increase of up to 14%!
So if you’re in a field that requires problem-solving, decision-making, creativity, or intense focus, a ten-minute treadmill, elliptical, or bicycle session beforehand might make a world of difference.
Future you will thank you!
How to Stay Active in the Workplace (or at Your Desk!)
You’ll find hundreds of lists online detailing how to stay fit while in the office.
But it seems too many of these “tips” are tailored to the remote workforce. (Ten push-ups an hour or hourly five-minute walk breaks don’t exactly earn you respect in the traditional office setting.)
If you want to stay active at work, here’s how:
- Find excuses to walk further (or at all). For example, use the far copier or fax machine (do those still exist?) or deliver messages the old-fashioned way — in person.
- Ride your bike or walk to work. Of course, skip this advice entirely if it requires getting on the freeway, dodging rush hour traffic, or trekking ten miles each way.
- Try out a new desk. Ask your boss if you can use a stand-up desk, under-desk bike, or even an exercise ball instead!
- Pace. Whenever you’re on hold, waiting for a meeting to start, or queueing for the microwave in the break room, pace! (Though this might make your coworkers anxious.)
- Use your breaks to get active. Stretch, do a lap around the building, visit the on-campus gym, do a few flights of stairs, squeeze in 500 steps, whatever it takes!
Unless you call your dining room table your “office” or live the freelance lifestyle, you miss out on the luxury of having 30 or 60-minute chunks to dedicate to a full workout.
Any chance you have to get up and move, take!
Benefits of Exercise in the Workplace
- Those who work a regular desk job in an office tend to sit more, which also takes a toll on their work productivity and mental well-being.
- To keep productivity levels high, employers across the country are encouraging “sit less, move more” initiatives that feature mid-shift exercise time and standing desks.
- Researchers in Denmark recently analyzed the impacts of intelligent physical exercise training (IPET) on the workforce. These programs produced astounding results amongst several career paths, mainly increased productivity and fewer sick days.
- Walking during your daily lunch breaks can improve your mood, enthusiasm, and calmness while also cutting your nervousness and anxiety.
- Exercising during your shift can improve your work performance and enhance your mood!
Why Your Employer Wants You to Get Fit
The CEO of your company might not host company-wide 5Ks, lead yoga classes during lunch, or order Panera Bread catering for the entire office.
But while any higher-up’s #1 concern is in the numbers (ROI, revenue, sales, customer satisfaction), they also need you in peak shape. Because when you get fit, they benefit!
From an employer’s perspective, more active and healthier employees:
- Miss fewer work days — employees who don’t exercise are 2.4–3.5 times more likely to miss days due to illness
- Tend to have better attitudes — those who describe themselves as “healthy” are, not surprisingly, 20% happier
- Feel less stressed — some 14% of people rely on exercise as their primary stress reliever
- Cost the company less in healthcare — over ten years, wellness programs saved Johnson & Johnson over $250 million in this department
If it weren’t for the physical, mental, and emotional benefits exercise offers, your employer’s subtle nudges to shed a few pounds or sign up for a gym membership would seem tone-deaf.
Luckily, everyone comes out a winner (like all players in a youth soccer league by season’s end)!
The Most Common Workplace Fitness Initiatives
Some 30% of employers across the nation have already rolled out workplace fitness initiatives to motivate employees to get (or stay) active — often while still on the clock!
The more innovative and modern companies tend to offer programs like:
- Standing (or treadmill) desks: Walking or standing while working doesn’t only keep you from keeling over and taking an impromptu nap at your desk. One call center also noticed a productivity rush in employees using stand-up desks — a 45% boost overall.
- Under-desk bikes: Lunchtime is your one hour a day to tune out the work stress, decompress, and chow down. Many employers are turning to sit-down bike desks to exercise while typing away, with studies suggesting it can improve reaction time.
- Health screenings: Some business owners invite medical teams to the office for annual (and often optional) employee health screenings. Employees can learn more about their BMI, blood pressure, and weight while also qualifying for discounts or incentives.
- Corporate gym access: Large companies with hundreds or even thousands of employees often have gyms on-site, free to use for all employees. Those mid-day training sessions can give you a jolt of energy, burn off stress, and help you finish the day strong.
- “Biggest Loser” competitions: Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper will be noticeably absent. But office-wide Biggest Loser-style competitions can encourage employees to drop weight with incentives for winning. Just don’t forget to “level the playing field” by ranking the leader board by percentage lost, not pounds shed.
- Group exercise classes: In the 21st century, it’s not unusual for employers to host themed events, like Fitness Fridays. Ask your manager if the company has plans for Zumba, yoga, circuit training, or weightlifting classes.
- Wellness challenges: This is where the workplace takes on a more exciting twist, whether it’s a 10,000-step-a-day or even a bike-to-work challenge.
- Walk-and-talk meetings: Escape the stuffy, bland conference room, and switch to outdoor walk-and-talk meetings instead. Experts suggest that the more time you spend outdoors, the more energetic, happy, and focused you’ll become — all workplace perks!
And, even if dropping into a lower BMI category or walking 10,000 steps a day aren’t priorities for you, these initiatives still come with a few motivating perks.
For example, $500 gift cards or a spa day for “winning” a challenge, leaving your desk more often, free (or discounted) access to a gym, feeling more awake at 2 p.m., and office camaraderie!
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Does Exercise in the Morning Increase Productivity?
Exercise in the morning can increase productivity throughout the day. Those early training sessions reportedly improve decision-making skills, boost cortisol levels (to make you feel more energized), enhance creativity, and encourage more restful sleep at night so that you wake up feeling refreshed.
Does Exercise Increase Motivation?
Exercise can increase motivation at the chemical level with the release of endorphins or “feel-good hormones.” These rising dopamine levels are energizing and encourage happiness. Researchers now believe that dopamine is also partially responsible for motivation and persistence when chasing goals.
Hopping on the treadmill for a lunch break HIIT workout or starting your morning with a high volume lifting session won’t guarantee a promotion or double your salary (though that’d be nice).
But a complete lifestyle overhaul definitely boosts your odds!
If you want to be more productive on the clock (and solidify a spot in your boss’s good graces), take a look at these facts:
- Employees sleeping fewer than five hours a night were 1.9x less productive and 1.5x more likely to call out sick.
- An unhealthy diet can cut productivity by a massive 66%.
- Smokers are more likely to miss work and stall in the productivity department, accounting for an additional $1,807 lost in revenue.
- Fifty-six percent of those who drink coffee at work report feeling more productive.
(One University of Illinois study even found that being “mildly” drunk (0.07 BAC) can boost productivity, creativity, and insightfulness. Of course, most bosses won’t be impressed by this.)
Hit the sack earlier, replace sugary and salty foods with healthier alternatives, quit smoking cigarettes, and overcome the mid-afternoon slump with a cup of joe!
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