Lunch break workout? If you’re one of the many people who work 10-hour work days – exercise may seem like your last priority, or maybe it doesn’t even make the priority list. However, it should be a priority. Exercise has numerous benefits for your mental and physical health, plus – exercising during the workday is one of the best ways to boost your productivity.
A study conducted in 2008 examined more than 200 employees to understand the impact of mid-day exercise. Researchers found that employees who exercised during the workday were more productive and left work feeling more satisfied with their day.
If your workplace has a gym onsite you’re at an advantage, but it’s not the only option. Quickly driving to a gym close to work and getting in a quick 20-minute workout, or even just putting on your running shoes and going for a brisk walk is possible for anyone, and will leave you feeling and working better. When you exercise, a number of biochemical reactions and physiological adaptations occur in the body that gets your blood pumping and leaves you feeling in a better mood than when you started. These adaptations actually boost your productivity at work.
After adolescence your brains stop developing, meaning that your body stops producing new brain cells in the hippocampus, a process known as neurogenesis. The hippocampus is the region of the brain responsible for learning and analyzing information, regulating emotions, and retaining memories. As we age, we may think we’re getting smarter but we’re actually losing brain cells. This is why our memory gets a little foggy. So how does this relate to exercise?
A study conducted on mice found that regular exercise slows down the decline in neurogenesis, meaning that they could retain more brain cells. In another study, exercise enhanced and increased neurogenesis in aged mice. While this is just an animal study and may not directly reflect in humans, preliminary research suggests it could.
A study published in 2013 gave a group of participants a working memory test before and after exercising for 15 minutes and found that compared to a control group, those who exercised saw an increase in their working memory. This gives an insight into how the hippocampus is benefited from exercise, even if it’s just for 15 minutes.
How does exercise affect the brain?
Firstly, it increases your heart rate, which in turn increases the blood flow to and around the brain. More blood flow to the brain means more oxygen, which aids all cognitive functions.
Secondly, when you exercise your body has a robust hormonal response. Beneficial hormones like serotonin and endorphins are secreted, the hormones responsible for feeling happy. While cortisol and adrenaline, hormones associated with feeling stressed and anxious, are decreased. This hormonal adaptation creates an optimized environment for neurogenesis and brain plasticity. A 2016 study found that exercise increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is associated with cognitive improvement and the alleviation of depression and anxiety.
Based on the science, it’s pretty clear that exercise makes your brain work better, which in turn makes you more productive in the workplace. Having a notably sharper memory, and the ability to learn information more easily and regulate your emotions will put you in an optimized state of efficiency. So if your boss is giving you the side-eye for going to the gym on your lunch break, show them this article.