We all know that regular exercise is good for overall health and well-being—from looking and feeling good to sleeping well. But there’s more. Exercise does great things for your work life, too. Whether you’re throwing a Frisbee, talking a walk or stretching in yoga class, exercise builds laser-sharp focus, improves your mood and increases productivity. Simply put, working out helps you work better.
Here are seven ways exercise improves your work life—and the science behind the reasons:
1. Boosts your brain.
Here’s the science of how exercise makes your brain work better: When you’re running laps and a song comes on that really gets your heart pumping, the increased blood flow bathes brain cells in the oxygen and glucose they need to function. And every time you move a muscle, hormones rush to your brain where they mix with a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This chemical is critical for brain cell growth, mood regulation and learning.
Researchers recently scanned the brains of people who exercised one hour a day, three days a week over the course of six months. They discovered that the hippocampus (which controls memory and learning) actually increased in size, allowing study participants to perform better at tasks that require recall and concentration. Exercise floods the brain with BDNF, helping your brain best process, remember and use information, just what you need on a busy Monday morning. So get moving and increase your efficiency!
2. Energizes you.
It may seem counter-intuitive that working out more would leave you more energetic instead of more fatigued, but it is true. Your heart grows stronger as it adapts to the demands of your workout. This means that when you are resting, your heart has to beat less often to circulate blood. Having increased your endurance, you have more energy to spare. Increased blood flow to your brain also sharpens your awareness, leaving you more energized and alert to manage project tasks and solve challenging problems.
3. Reduces stress.
Big presentation coming up? Time for a challenging talk with a colleague? Exercise can help. Regular activity boosts the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. More endorphins mean more confidence and an increased ability to tackle demanding tasks head-on.
When you feel anxious or stressed, the body tenses up. Physical activity uses up that pent-up energy and releases tension before it results in headaches or high-blood pressure. When stressed, your body requires fuel to fight or flee, causing the liver to work to convert glycogen to glucose. At the same time, the liver’s cholesterol production increases. Exercise helps to remove this excess cholesterol, keeping your systems functioning well and reducing any after effects of anxiety. Imagine how much better you’d handle big job demands if you go in with a lower state of overall stress.
4. Increases stamina.
Stamina is the ability to withstand fatigue or resist disease. In fitness terms, stamina is the ability to sustain physical activity or play a sport for a prolonged period of time. Aerobic exercise (anything that increases your heart rate) helps burn off calories while increasing heart health. Improved stamina boosts the immune system, making it easier for your body to fight off viral illnesses, flu or the common cold, all of which keeps sick days to a minimum. These are the health benefits you want when you’re in the midst of a big project and every minute of every day matters—or when sick days aren’t an option.
5. Improves mood.
Regular exercise stimulates the development and delivery of feel-good chemicals and hormones in the brain. They include serotonin, a mood-booster; dopamine which affects attention and learning, and norepinephrine, which influences attention, perception, motivation and arousal.
Elevating the levels of these chemicals leaves you in a better mental place to deal with challenging work situations, co-workers or deadlines. Exercise also can improve your sleep, which is easily disrupted by job-related anxiety. Combatting stress through healthy exercise eases anxiety and creates a sense of command at your work desk and in your daily life.
6. Improves confidence.
Confidence comes from setting goals and achieving them—whether that’s in the conference room or on the playing field. Exercise promotes a sense of accomplishment through the daily practice of small, successive goals with measurable results. Building a positive attitude toward the hard work of a strenuous activity carries over into the workplace, helping you grab opportunities and set you sights higher. The added energy of regular exercise adds vigor to your outlook. Seeing what your body can achieve builds confidence in what is possible through consistent effort. This confidence also builds teamwork skills and collaboration efforts.
7. Prevents illness.
Studies show that people who exercise live longer, healthier lives. Regular exercise helps prevent disease in a number of ways, including building better body/mass index, improving heart health, strengthening bones and putting you in a state of deeper sleep.
In fact, exercise can be as effective as medication in lowering blood pressure. This is because regular exercise makes your heart stronger, which means it pumps blood more efficiently. Any activity that raises your heart rate counts, so take the stairs rather than an elevator, or walk on your lunch break rather than drive. It’s the little things that count.
Illustrations by Nadya Ilinskaya, LP’s Test Engineer.