Why exercise should be part of your job

Ryan Boyd

John F. Kennedy once said that, "Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body; it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity."

Perhaps this is something businesses can take to heart. Think about it. Are there times at work when your brain just doesn’t work as well as you’d like, particularly around 2-3pm? Mistakes can creep in, creativity can dwindle, and productivity can drop.

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Research from Stanford University has shown that “Physical activity is associated with improved affective experience and enhanced cognitive processing.”

And Kaytee Boyd, Manager of Balanced Wellbeing, agrees.

“Exercise provides tangible improvements to creative productivity, especially at certain times of the day,” she says. “It reduces stress levels and burns off the mid-morning muffin and coffee that helps give you a ‘pick-me-up’.”

Kaytee says this is backed up by research done linking exercise and cognitive function.

“What scientists have learned so far is that brain neurons, the special cells that help you think, move, perform all the bodily functions that keep you alive, and even help your memory, all increase in number after just a few days or weeks of regular activity.

“In a meta-analysis of older adults, researchers found that the fittest individuals had the highest scores on tasks like coordination, scheduling, planning, and memory.”

And, as Kaytee points out, it’s not just the participants that reap the rewards.

“Not only may individuals realise greater gains from aerobic exercise, but organisations may potentially benefit as well. For example, fostering environments that encourage aerobic exercise for employees may yield increases in creative output and innovation in product development, promotion, operations management, and many other areas.”

It’s not all that surprising then that many businesses are now incorporating fitness and wellbeing programmes into the working day and encouraging employees to take part.

For example, in October Westpac’s head office in Auckland teamed up with Les Mills to run a 21 day challenge for staff. Participants received free access to the gym, with the goal of burning as much fat and gaining as much muscle as possible. Almost 400 employees signed up, and over the three weeks an average of 1.2kg was lost, with the biggest loser shedding an impressive 14.1kg.

The popularity of the challenge showed that people do want to get fitter and healthier, but sometimes need a framework to motivate them designed to get them moving.

However, Kaytee is very quick to point out that it’s not just exercise that you need to reinvigorate your brain. It’s also incredibly important to ensure you get enough rest.

“The exercise components good, but resting and getting more relaxation time is more important for some people. A lot of the clients I see have drain fatigue, and one of the things they all have in common is they don’t have enough time to recover. It’s really big, and a lot of them are right on the edge of empty.

“If you’re tired your work production drops quite dramatically. If you’re not eating well, not taking care of yourself, drinking too much coffee, late nights, not drinking enough water, it just exacerbates the problem.”

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Awaken the body

Fitness trainer and former French rugby player, Tony Marsh shares some tips for how you can incorporate exercise into your working day.

Making time for exercise and relaxation provides some serious mental benefits, such as:

  • Increased work production
  • Increased alertness
  • Reduced stress
  • Boost endorphins which create feelings of happiness and euphoria
  • Boost Brain Power
  • Sharpen memory
  • Increased relaxation
  • Tap in creativity
  • Inspire others

Here are just a few ideas to awaken the body:

1)      Go for a walk. Better still, try doing some running intervals – run at 80% for 2 min, jog for 1 min. Repeat this 5-10 times.

2)      Try out one of the Les Mills group fitness classes – body pump (high repetition weights), body balance (yoga/Tai Chi/Pilates) or RPM cycling. Several options for everyone.

3)      Find a grassy area and take some time out and connect with earth. Lie on the ground (use a towel if you don’t want to dirty your suit) and soak up the sun’s Vitamin D rays, or just close your eyes, breathe deeply and relax.

4)      Every couple of hours walk up and down some stairs to get the blood flowing, and take time to switch off. This should help to stay focussed and make switching back on easier.

5)      Go and get some fresh air. If possible find a spot with a beautiful view and just switch your brain off.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can” – Arthur Ashe, former world no. 1 tennis star.

Disclosure: The author of this article, Ryan Boyd, is not related in any way to Kaytee Boyd.

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