The Top 10 Benefits of Exercise At Work
The Benefits of Exercise At The Office
On average, people spend more than 3,500 days at work over a lifetime. Most people don’t associate exercise with work, unless they work in the fitness industry, are fortunate enough to have in-house gym access or participate in manual labour as a significant part of their day.
We all know that exercise is a good thing for mind and body, but researchers from the US Department of Health and Human Services reveal that 80 per cent of US adults and adolescents are inadequately active. This is reflected in increasingly physical inactivity levels globally where labour-saving devices, smart-technology and our environment are increasingly engineered to seduce us to be more sedentary. Many jobs today are physically inactive, which has a damaging impact on our health, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Physical inactivity becoming the norm isn’t just an American issue; it’s increasingly becoming a global one. Many people lead sedentary lifestyles these days, going to work sitting on public transport or in the car and then spending their working day sitting most of the time, bar the odd toilet or coffee break. Then, of course, there are the 2.8 hours of TV the average person watches each day - often the TV is the leisure activity that occupied the most time daily. Most office workers don’t take a lunch break either, eating at their desks instead and spending even less time on their feet.
However, there are so many reasons that more movement should be incorporated into the working day, as it can have a positive impact on work output as well as on personal health. Even if you can’t think about exercises to do while sitting think about the opportunities to stand and get out of your chair more often.
Below, we look at the top 10 benefits of exercise at work:
#1. Helps to Manage Chronic Stress
Work can be stressful and is likely to be a significant contributor to personal stress. It doesn’t matter what kind of work you do; you’re likely to feel significantly stressed over something at one time or another. Acute stress is usually deemed to be positive; it helps to improve focus and concentration. However, chronic stress is detrimental, and when based on excessive, prolonged stress and environmental demands can be challenging to manage. Work-related stress can cause both mental and physical effects. You could be stressed because of heavy workloads, uncomfortable work conditions or difficulties with colleagues.
You might not even be stressed about work - you might be stressed about something going on at home, or during the commute to and from work, but take that into work with you. So how does exercise help combat stress?
Exercise helps to reduce stress by regulating the release of cortisol. After exercise, the stress hormones drop and stress and anxiety fade away, leaving you in a more relaxed state for the rest of the day. However, it isn’t just a temporary distraction from our problems; there are longer-term benefits too, which include strengthening our physiological resistance to stress making us more resilient also. It is one of the reasons why doctors and health professionals recommend more physical activity to reduce stress and reactions to stress triggers. Physical activity is useful but it isn’t the only option available, the charity MIND has other excellent tips on how to reduce stress and be mentally healthy at work.
#2. Improved Performance and Productivity
With exercise comes improved performance and productivity throughout the rest of the day. Many people convince themselves that they’ll go for a run or head to the gym after work, but when it finally gets to home time, they feel so bogged down by everything that’s happened that day all they want to do is curl up and watch some TV. Even if they haven’t had a particularly stressful day, the fact that they have spent the majority of the day sedentary can make them feel unmotivated to go and work out.
Exercising before work and movement during the working day can improve things like focus, and concentration, alertness and energy, decision making and multi-tasking ability. Both aerobic and resistance training are beneficial. The main factor behind this is that exercise improves cerebral blood flow, that is, improved blood flow to the brain, which improves performance.
One of the benefits of exercise during the workday is increased and sustained energy throughout the day.
#3. Reduced Sedentary Time
Exercising at work will reduce time spent sedentary. Have you heard the expression sitting is the new smoking? Well extended sitting time and low physical activity has been associated with poor health and premature death with researchers highlighting the potential risks in the paper, “Too much sitting and all-cause mortality: is there a causal link?”
Just taking regular breaks from sitting is beneficial. Setting a timer and getting up and walking for a short amount of time every 20-30 minutes can be a great way to start enjoying the benefits. Of course doing sitting exercises can keep you active whilst in your chair.
#4. Less Absenteeism
The most common causes for long-term absences are stress, acute medical conditions, mental ill-health, musculoskeletal injuries and back pain. Each year during the old and flu season, there is a dramatic rise in absenteeism rates for workers - not surprisingly. Exercise at work may result in healthier, improved immunity, which in turn will result in fewer sick days in the workplace.
Being active reduces the likelihood of illness; this goes for reductions in both physical and mental health issues.
#5. Better Sleep
The majority of people complain about not getting enough quality sleep at night. Of course, this can be due to many things, such as consuming too much caffeine and watching TV too close to bedtime. However, physical activity during the day helps sleep quality at night.
What is quality sleep? The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) in the United States defines quality sleep as
Sleeping while in bed (at least 85 percent of the total time)
Falling asleep in less than 30 minutes
Waking up no more than once per night; and
Being awake for 20 minutes or less after falling asleep
Exercise has long been associated with better sleep, and evidence is mounting on exercise as a non-drug treatment option for sleep disturbance and the association between objectively measured physical-activity and sleep.
Exercising more during the working day could well mean getting a better night’s sleep, falling to sleep with ease and staying asleep. In turn, this can reduce stress, help us to better to listen to our hunger cues, and of course, perform better at work.
#6. Saves Time
Exercise at work can mean saving time if done wisely - no need to go out for a run or a gym session, because you can take advantage of cumulative incidental movement throughout the day instead, using approaches such as HIIPA and NEAT or perform movement snacks at your desk using products such as the Animal Moves Office Deck in bouts of seconds to a few minutes at a time.
HIIPA stands for high-intensity incidental physical activity, in other words, actions that have us moving around and getting our heart rate up while merely going about our day as usual.
NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis and is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports.
By thinking more about movement during the working day, rather than exercise alone. employees can take advantage of HIIPA and NEAT, save time and money.
#7. Improved Mental Health and Mood
Exercise is a huge positive for physical health, decades of research has established it as one of the best ways to lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stave off other ailments such as dementia - but that isn’t all. Exercise at work can result in improved mental health and mood, which can have a positive effect on all kinds of things, from your productivity to your home life. It helps to support the feel-good hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins.
A 2015 study found that exercise may be able to reduce the onset of depressive symptoms. Moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity can be as effective as medication and therapy for many people with mild to moderate depression, and it certainly has the least side effects of any treatment.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that people with mild to moderate depression take part in at least 3 sessions per week, of around 60 minutes duration, over 10 to 14 weeks.
When moving at work try and have some fun with it too and be playful!
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#8. Improved Creativity
A 2014 study by scientists at Stanford University showed that walking could significantly improve certain types of cognitive efforts involved in creativity. The researchers compared the creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat and found that a person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 per cent when walking.
Things like convergent thinking, such as the ability to come up with solutions to a problem, and divergent thinking, which consists of conceiving open-ended, original ideas were shown to improve with increased walking time.
Steve Jobs regularly participated in walking meetings especially for initial meetings and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg does the same too.
The advice ’sit as little as possible’ has been around for over a century, even Charles Dickens regularly walked 20-30 miles a day as part of the creative process and many creatives today choose to move more to improve their way of thinking and to come up with new ideas.
#9. Team Building
A team’s success isn’t based only on their expertise as individuals, but also on how they function together as a unit. Team building activities help to foster greater communication, understanding, and unity and work best when based on activities not directly associated with the usual work activities.
Exercise at work can be put into place as part of team-building events. Team building not only helps your team to learn more about one another and how they best work as a team, but can inspire others to lead more active lives.
Movement challenges such as employees competing based on “how many steps per day” can also be put into place to inspire and motivate employees and help them to get more exercise into their day as a side-benefit of a competitive work environment.
#10. Reduces Risk of Cognitive Decline
Over time, many people accept cognitive decline as a fact of life. However, this does not have to be the case. Memory can be maintained and even improved with regular exercise.
Aerobic exercise is associated with improvements in attention span and processing speed, executive function, and memory.
Regular exercise may increase the size of the hippocampus in the brain - this is the part that is responsible for learning and memory. Exercise can help to protect thinking skills and memory in everybody, too, not just senior citizens.
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Exercise at work might be challenging to get into, but it’ll no doubt improve the working day tenfold. Employees will feel more ready to face whatever they have on their plates, with better creativity, more solutions to problems, and increased productivity. They will also likely be in a better mood throughout the day, protect their immune systems and mental health, and enjoy a better quality of sleep, which all affect their working lives in one way or another.
If you would like further information on the why and the how of getting more play in your life, download The FREE Importance of Play eBook below or if you would like to seek out exercises you can do at your desk try out the Animal Moves Office Deck.