The Secret to Improved Work Productivity? Exercise

Research shows that fitting in physical activity during the day may make you a better boss or employee.

a bearded young man wearing a yellow vest performs stretches as part of a workplace exercise routine in a warehouse work setting

Updated on January 11, 2023.

Have you ever spent a day downing coffee because you didn’t get a good night’s sleep? Or maybe you hit a wall every afternoon and reach for a soda or cookie for a burst of energy to tide you over until quitting time.

Though these strategies might get you through the day, neither of them is making you a better employee. It turns out, though, that incorporating exercise into your daily routine may help relieve issues like these—and make you more productive in the process.

Exercise in, better work out

In a 2017 study published in BMC Public Health, researchers recruited more than 250 university employees to wear pedometers to measure their activity during the week. Those who were more physically active during the day were better able to meet deadlines and other scheduling requirements. Likewise, those who sat less during their workdays were more productive.

In another influential study of entrepreneurs, business owners who jogged regularly said they were more satisfied, independent, and autonomous than non-runners. The runners’ companies also reported better sales.

Why?

Runner and study author Mike Goldsby noted that regular runners tend to have traits that also make them good business owners (and employees). These include dedication, goal-setting, and a willingness to embrace hard work.

Among the most touted benefits of regular exercise are boosts in confidence and energy—which can also translate to your career. Exercise can also improve sleep, keeping you more alert during the day. It may also help improve memory, concentration, and engagement.

Taking midday 30-minute walks have been shown to make employees more relaxed and enthusiastic about work. And studies have shown that increased productivity was directly related to an improvement in mood after exercising during the workday.

Better physical health translates across all domains

Along with improving productivity through better concentration and focus, being physically healthy can also make you feel better on the job. Workplace exercise programs may offer a win-win for employees and employers.

In a 2016 article published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science, Danish researchers analyzed 15 studies encompassing more than 3,500 people engaging in physical activity in the workplace. The programs lasted from 10 weeks to two years and offered about one hour of activity weekly that was tailored to the employees’ needs. Researchers found that structured exercise programs helped workers in a variety of ways, including:

  • Neck pain was relieved in office workers, fighter pilots, and dentists.
  • Cardiorespiratory health improved in office workers and construction workers.
  • Productivity increased in workers who lost weight and gained muscle mass.

Sick days are another productivity killer, but exercising may reduce the chances you’ll get a cold or the flu. Exercise boosts immunity, raises body temperature (which may help fight off bugs), and relieves stress (too much of which can contribute to a dampened immune system). The lower your chances of calling in sick, they better shot you may have at reaching your personal and professional goals.

Even a little exercise goes a long way

In general, adults should try to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity weekly, or some combination thereof. Adults are also advised to include two bouts of muscle-strengthening work each week.

Even smaller amounts of activity may boost productivity, especially when you can squeeze it in during the workday. In a 2017 article in Physiology & Behavior, researchers found that a 10-minute walk up and down stairs made workers more energetic and alert than did consuming caffeine. So, instead of leaning on that afternoon cup of joe, try taking a quick power walk—preferably outside if you can escape the office for a few minutes. You may return to work more alert, energetic, and ready to tackle the rest of your day.

If you feel the pull toward getting in your daily steps while on the job, but feel like your to-do list or eagle-eyed supervisor make it hard to break away, consider this: When you make time each day for physical activity, not only are you nurturing your own health, but by boosting your productivity, you may be helping to boost your company’s bottom line. That’s something any boss would endorse.

Article sources open article sources

Puig-Ribera, A., Bort-Roig, J., Giné-Garriga, M., González-Suárez, A. M., Martínez-Lemos, I., Fortuño, J., Martori, J. C., Muñoz-Ortiz, L., Milà, R., Gilson, N. D., & McKenna, J. Impact of a workplace 'sit less, move more' program on efficiency-related outcomes of office employees. BMC Public Health. 2017;17:455.
Sjøgaard, Gisela, Reffstrup Christensen, Jeanetta, Bendix Justesen, Just, Murray, Mike, Dalager, Tine, Hansen Fredslund, Gitte, Søgaard, Karen. Exercise is more than medicine: The working age population's well-being and productivity. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2016; 5:159-165.
Medline Plus. Exercise and Immunity. Page last reviewed January 29, 2022.
Randolph, Derek, O'Connor, Patrick. Stair walking is more energizing than low dose caffeine in sleep deprived young women. Physiology & Behavior. 2017;174:128-135.
Cleveland Clinic. How Exercise Affects Your Sleep. Page last updated November 11, 2020.
Basso JC, Suzuki WA. The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review. Brain Plast. 2017;2(2):127-152. Published 2017 Mar 28.
Goldsby, Michael G., Kuratko, Donald F., Bishop, James W. Entrepreneurship and Fitness: An Examination of Rigorous Exercise and Goal Attainment among Small Business Owners. Journal of Small Business Management. Volume 43, Issue 1. December 1, 2004.

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