To improve your work performance, get some exercise

Worldwide, 1.4 billion adults are not sufficiently active, with one in three women and one in four men not getting enough physical activity. Indeed, there has been no improvement in physical activity levels since 2001, and physical inactivity is twice as severe in high-income countries as it is in low-income countries.

To combat the negative impact of physical inactivity, in 2018 the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a global action plan aimed at reducing physical inactivity by 15% by 2030. By promoting physical activity and by encouraging people to exercise regularly, WHO seeks to maximize the benefits of physical activity: prevent and manage non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease (including coronary heart disease and stroke), various types of cancer, improve overall physical and mental well-being, sharpen cognitive ability, and ensure healthy growth and development.

While the benefits of physical activity on overall well-being are widely recognized, there has been a lack of research into how it affects work outcomes, including job performance and health. This is all the more important as various emerging ways of working have allowed for greater flexibility and convenience. Yet we find ourselves sitting more and moving around less, as many of us no longer have to commute to work or walk from meeting to meeting.

How physical activity affects work performance

Given that most of our waking hours are spent working, in an effort to support the WHO initiative to increase physical activity, our recent research points to some important work-related implications of physical activity.

Approximately 200 employees from the UK and China participated in a 10-day study in which we acquired self-reported, objective physical activity data (via a wearable smart band device), as well as self-reported and supervisor. We discovered some noteworthy findings about daily physical activity that impact employees and organizations:

Motivation for physical activity involves physical activity.

It may seem obvious that being motivated taking part in an activity would lead to doing said business, but anyone who\’s ever made and then dropped a New Year\’s resolution knows that\’s not necessarily the case. People\’s self-motivation, a stable individual difference that reflects the degree to which they feel self-determined to engage in a behavior, is a key personal resource that can drive people to engage in physical activity. Importantly, in other words, the more autonomous the form of motivation, the more people view physical activity as a fun and enjoyable activity rather than something to be feared, the more likely they are to engage in daily physical activity.

Physical activity builds up resources relevant to work the next day.

We found that daily physical activity generated a bundle of resources for the next day, called resource caravans, that contributed to work-related outcomes.

The first resource immediately offered by physical activity is quality sleep, i.e. a person\’s degree of satisfaction with their daily sleep experience. Physical activity promotes protein synthesis and facilitates quality sleep as a homeostatic feedback process that benefits the body and brain. The second resource gain is vigor, an affective resource associated with energy and vitality. The third resource gain is task attention, a cognitive resource that supports improved information processing, attention, and concentration.

Physical activity improves work performance and health the next day.

Existing research on the impact of physical activity in the workplace has focused on physical activity during specific times (eg, exercising during the lunch break), neglecting consideration of physical activity throughout the day. This has further contributed to inconsistent results, as employees may feel a depletion of resources (such as stamina and focus) soon after physical activity, which can actually interfere with their work.

All of this is to say that it may take some time to experience the work-related benefits of physical activity. Sure enough, our research finds delayed benefits of physical activity on The day after task performance, creativity, and health symptoms. Through two studies, we have consistently found that employees\’ daily physical activity during the day generates resource caravans consisting of physical (sleep), affective (stamina), and cognitive (task focus) resources, which further contribute to job performance and next day health results in several ways. Physical and emotional resources are used to reduce daily physical pain; cognitive resources contribute more to the performance of daily activities; and affective resources and cognitive resources are stronger predictors of self-rated creative performance.

Work self-efficacy models the ability to obtain resources from physical activity

Job self-efficacy, which reflects an employee\’s perception of their ability to do their job, amplifies the resource-generating benefits of daily physical activity on sleep quality and task concentration. People with higher levels of self-efficacy tend to hold stronger positive beliefs in their motivation and ability to acquire work-related resources from daily physical activity.

How to become more physical

If you\’ve found yourself moving less while working remotely, here are three research-backed ways to reap the many benefits of increasing your physical activity:

Focus on building a daily physical activity habit.

Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly. Don\’t be discouraged if you don\’t see immediate work-related benefits from physical activity. Our research specifically looked at the benefits of delayed physical activity the next day, demonstrating significant resource gains that contributed to performance and health benefits. Day after day, focus on forming new healthy habits and the results will develop over time.

Remember that some are better than none.

We often shy away from physical activity because we\’re simply too tired, hungry, stressed or busy (including us!). Our findings echo WHO\’s perspective that some physical activity is better than none. To realize the health benefits and minimize the harmful health effects of being sedentary, WHO recommends that adults aged 18 to 64 should engage in at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity or at least 1, 25 hours of high-intensity physical activity each week.

Our research identifies moderate-intensity physical activity as the most impactful for generating gains in physical, emotional, and cognitive resources that further benefit next-day activity performance, creativity, and health outcomes. Given that low-intensity exercise may require a longer commitment to reap resource gains, and high-intensity exercise may lend itself more easily to injury, moderate-intensity exercise is a more feasible goal for many. Additionally, we found that even short bouts of physical activity, even 20 minutes a day, were enough to generate resources that contributed to employee performance and health the next day.

Motivated or not, get moving!

Our research reveals that even employees who dislike exercise can benefit from daily physical activity. We also found that self-motivated individuals are more likely to participate in physical activity, implicating enjoyment as a key driver of physical activity engagement, so find an activity that makes exercise less onerous and more pleasant. If a bootcamp session isn\’t your thing, try a strenuous hike or boxing class. Next time you want to swap exercise for a comfy couch, aim for just 20 minutes.

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If you\’re looking to up your game at work, make an effort to include more physical activity in your days. Your body will thank you, and your mind will reward you with more energy, better focus on the task, and increased creativity.

#improve #work #performance #exercise

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