I am finding a hard time coming up with any good reason why exercise isn’t good for us. I met my wife while exercising, my kids are healthier because of it, and I seem to have a better day if I do it. I was the teenager who tried to hide a set of dumbbells in my parents’ trunk so I wouldn’t miss a workout during a Florida vacation. Call me crazy, but I was committed to fitness. I will admit, I’ve settled down a little since then, but this I am sure of: exercising regularly has tremendous benefits for us personally, for our marriage, our family and our work. So, to celebrate May being the National Physical Fitness and Sports month, in my May blogs I’ll look at the benefits exercise can have in different areas of our lives. This week, it’s about work, because as it turns out, exercising is a great way to be better at your job.
There are a variety of good things that happen in our brains when we exercise. For one thing, exercise stimulates us to produce growth factors, chemicals that cause the growth of new blood vessels and brain cells. They preserve the health of existing cells and help make additional connections between them. This kind of “fitness” isn’t necessarily what we’re thinking of when we work out, but you can see how it’s an investment in your future brain health. Plus, because of the chemicals that are produced when we exercise, it helps us to be able to focus better and it produces a calming effect. Couldn’t we all use a little more focus and be calmer during a work day?
Memory and Creativity
Cardio exercises (running, biking, brisk walking) actually increases the size of your hippocampus, the part of your brain in charge of learning and verbal memory. The result? Exercise provides a helpful memory boost. Not only that but doing some form of mild aerobic exercise (cardio exercise) while you’re learning can help with new memory formation. So there’s actual evidence that going for a walk or a run can actually improve your ability to pick up new information. I have discovered that when I am struggling coming up with a creative solution to a problem at work, I take a walk around the neighborhood. Taking just a six-minute walk, studies show, is enough to boost our divergent thinking skills. Doing this has sure helped me.
Attention and Multitasking
It also turns out that exercise can improve your attention span. Schoolchildren in a recent study showed increased fitness when they had twenty minutes of exercise between lessons– but they also unexpectedly got better at skills like multitasking and ignoring distractions. If you think about it that makes sense doesn’t it? Anyone who’s ever tried to score a goal in soccer knows how to do both of these things. It’s just that we don’t necessarily realize they apply off the field, too!
Exercise can be described as exposing your body to a specific kind of stress for a short period of time. The nice thing about this is that it helps you roll better with stress in general. Exercise also produces endorphins, which are natural mood elevators. These two benefits might explain why employees who exercise before or during the work day describe themselves as more organized, productive, and happy. This was precisely my point above when I said that exercise has a calming effect on me. My family jokes that exercising is my version of Prozac. It’s a running joke, but there is a lot of truth to it. It’s amazing how much better I handle stress throughout the day if I exercise first thing in the morning.
Too often, we tell ourselves that exercise is something we’ll get around to eventually. It definitely seems optional compared to work. But when you look at all the benefits of even brief exercise during the work day, you can almost say that it’s part of your job to exercise. After all, it improves your memory, creativity, and focus. This is why an increasing number of employers have gyms onsite, or discounted memberships at gyms nearby. It’s also why many employees elect to eat a quick lunch at their desks and use their lunch breaks to take a walk. You’ll see results doing this just two or three times a week for short periods, so it’s worth a shot. It really is that important. Why not give it a try?
Would you mind sharing this information with one of your friends this week? If you need any advice or suggestions on how to enhance your exercise routines, my wife Ally is a wealth of knowledge. She would love to help. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.