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Physical Activity Throughout the Day Can Increase Employees’ Productivity

Employers need to understand the importance of physical activity and promote it
By: Hannah Manz and Amanda McDonald
August 22nd, 2017

Over 50% of Americans admit to not meeting recommended physical activity guidelines.1

Why? Our days are filled with so many other things. In fact, about half of the average American’s waking hours are spent at work. Ultimately, exercising is not and cannot be a priority for many.

But what if exercise was built into the workday? Rather than trying to schedule a workout around work, we could exercise during typical working hours instead.

While working out during the workday might seem a bit far-fetched at first, new research continues to show the many long-lasting effects that physical activity provides to our mental and physical health, as well as increasing productivity and overall workplace satisfaction.

There are endless physical health benefits of exercise

We know the obvious health benefits of regular exercise: weight loss, increased strength, endurance, and flexibility, etc. But some other health benefits may not be as recognizable.

Physical activity leads to a lower risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, some cancers, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis.2,3 It also decreases risks of obesity and back pain and has even shown to postpone disabilities in older adults.3

Our physical regime has a direct impact on our mental firepower too

Looking beyond the long-term chronic disease health benefits, there are some pretty remarkable cognitive benefits as well.

Upon incorporating physical activity into your normal routine, you can expect improved concentration, a sharper memory, faster learning, prolonged mental stamina, enhanced creativity, and lower stress.4

Consequently, we know that regular exercise can have a massive impact on our personal lives, should we have the time to make it a priority.

Upon examining further, we wanted to know more about how this correlates with our professional lives and why employers should care about physical activity.

Here’s what we found.

Physical activity increases productivity by stimulating blood flow

When we exercise or do any type of movement in general, blood flow is stimulated throughout the whole body. Because our blood is moving more freely, more oxygen is delivered via the bloodstream, and for a short time, the brain experiences higher than usual concentrations of oxygen, known as hyperoxygenation.5

In addition to increased blood flow, physical activity triggers cells to produce more mitochondria.

The mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. More mitochondria mean higher production of ATP, a usable form of energy for cells. Increased ATP levels give you more energy to exert yourself not only physically, but mentally as well.

The combination of increased blood flow and more energy for your brain results in boosted mental output.6

Movement can help improve memory and learning processes

Sedentary jobs have detrimental impacts on our health, which we covered in the blog Sitting is a Deadly Habit that Kills. Unfortunately, the number of sedentary jobs have increased by over 80% since the 1950s.

Remaining in a static position for all or most of the workday has been proven to prevent neurogenesis, the production of new brain cells.6

Because of this, people who routinely partake in physical activity and are between 50-70 years old might have more brain cells than their sedentary counterparts. Higher amounts of brain cells could prove to be a huge long-term advantage in the workplace.

Getting up to move around sparks collaboration 

Prolonged sitting and prolonged standing are detrimental to our health. In order to experience the greatest benefits, it is recommended that we move and frequently change positions during the workday.

It is not the act of sitting alone that is harmful to our well-being; rather, it is the lack of movement according to Melvyn Hillsdon from the University of Exeter.7

Maybe you haven’t put much thought into it, but an added benefit of workplace movement is collaboration. When employees are out of their cubicles and offices, they are more likely to run into their coworkers, leading to more conversation and collaboration.8 This has been proven to increase sales in companies around the world.

With all of the added benefits of movement throughout the day, it’s easy to want to make changes to our daily habits. Employers have a big opportunity to encourage people to make critical changes to their daily routines and support employees to take steps (literally) toward becoming healthier and more productive.

If you want to jump-start employees’ physical activity here’s what you can do

Employers can play a huge role in creating a workplace environment that encourages exercise. After all, it has a positive impact on their employees and their organization!

This can be done by addressing the obstacles that keep us from being physically active, such as not having the time or the support to do so.

Here are a few suggestions for creating a culture that promotes physical activity9:

  1. Allow employees to have flexible hours, including a break for physical activity
  2. Encourage active transport by offering bike storage or having a “walk to work day.”
  3. Promote the use of stairs over elevators- make stairwells safe and inviting.
  4. Provide exercise facilities in the office: walking track, gym, or outdoor walking paths
  5. Provide changing facilities, locker rooms, and showers.

As employers, you can start with the low-cost things to show employees that the organization truly cares about their health. It’s as simple as asking your employees if they’ve taken a break to get up and move for a couple of minutes when you pass by their desks.

By doing these things, employers are creating positive experiences at work.

According to the Leeds Metropolitan University study, employees who visited the gym managed their time more effectively, were more productive, had smoother interactions with colleagues, and went home feeling much more satisfied.

Those are all positive things to be excited about!

 

Changes can slowly be made in a workplace to create a culture of physical activity. In doing so, the benefits will be reaped by everyone!

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). National health interview survey. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/about_nhis.htm.
  2. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, 2008. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2008.
  3. OnHealth (2005-2016). Does your workout really work? WebMD, LLC. Retrieved from http://www.onhealth.com/content/1/most_effective_exercises.
  4. Harvard Business Review (2014). Regular exercise is part of your job. Harvard Business Publishing. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/10/regular-exercise-is-part-of-your-job.
  5. Forbes (2012). To work better, just get up from your desk. Forbes Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisongriswold/2012/06/12/to-work-better-just-get-up-from-your-desk/&refURL=&referrer=#602568301c15.
  6. Huffington Post (2012). Exercise increases productivity. Oath Inc. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-pozen/exercise-productivity_b_2005463.html.
  7. BEC Crew (2015). Sitting for long periods is no worse for your health than standing, study claims. Science Alert. Retrieved from http://www.sciencealert.com/sitting-for-long-periods-is-no-worse-for-your-health-than-standing-study-claims.
  8. Harvard Business Review (2015). Why people thrive in coworking spaces. Harvard Business Publishing. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/05/why-people-thrive-in-coworking-spaces.
  9. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (2017). Urbanization and Obesity. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-and-urbanization/.
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