Exercise makes you healthy, wealthy and wise
We all know it. Live a sedentary lifestyle and you’re opening the door to all sorts of health issues. It’s well documented that exercise lowers cholesterol, blood pressure and cortisol levels, reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and improves mental health.
So, get out and exercise and you’ll feel great – and it’ll do good things for your career too. Exercise:
- Makes you more productive
Our ancestors were active all the time. If they sat around doing nothing, it wouldn’t be long before they starved (or were squished by a woolly mammoth). So they simply had physically active lives, walking up to 12 miles a day in search of food and water (and running away from things).
The modern lifestyle now involves a lot of sitting around, but our brains still need that activity. When you exercise, tiny proteins called BDNF are created, which feed the brain and help it to grow.
Australian research in 2011 showed that employees who went to the gym three times a week and walked 10,000 steps a day were more productive than those who only walked their 10,000 steps. It was estimated that the increased ability to make decisions, plan, remember and simulate scenarios meant those more active employees added an extra $2,500 to their company a year.
As an aside, that 10,000 step count is completely arbitrary, made up in the 1960s for a marketing campaign, not based in science. It’s known that less than 5000 steps a day leads to weight gain, bone loss, muscle atrophy and a host of health problems like diabetes. It’s been researched and found that anything over 7,500 steps a day offers some health protective factors, but the pace and intensity matter, too.
- Boosts your problem-solving skills and focus
If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, or you have a problem you just can’t solve, throw on your sneakers and go for walk. A 2013 study found that people who exercised four or more times a week had much better creative thinking than those who didn’t.
However, this only applies if you are used to physical activity. Otherwise, your brain is devoting energy to being active, and not to problem solving. The cure for this is simply to be active regularly.
Exercise combats stress by encouraging serotonin production. It improves your memory by growing new cells in your hippocampus, and also improves your ability to shift and focus your attention.
- Helps you expand your professional network
Every TV show in the world tells us that business networking is conducted over an alcoholic beverage or two, but that status quo is changing. One in five UK adults don’t drink, and one in seven are gym members.
While going to the gym to meet people may not be the ultimate goal, strong connections are developed at the gym. Whether it’s taking a bike next to the same person at spin classes and hating on the instructor together, or borrowing someone to spot you on the bench press, it’s surprising who you can meet.
- Gets you outside
You need vitamin D, and Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing, so take your exercise outside to reap some extra physical and psychological benefits.
In the UK, the Urban Mind Project has found a positive link between being outdoors and good mental health. The benefits continue for seven hours after exercise, so a workout before work and then a walk around the block at lunchtime can help you feel great for the rest of the day. And, those who have anxiety or depression benefit more from exercising outdoors.
What does this mean for employers?
If you’re an employer, you’ll make your workforce happier and healthier if you invest in a wellness programme. Staff will be more productive, take less sick leave, and come up with more innovative solutions to problems. Organisations with great health programmes report 11% higher revenue per employee and 28% higher shareholder returns.
Just remember that weight loss should not be the goal of a wellness programme. Weight loss is psychologically complex, and can’t be addressed by a simple workplace scheme. However, the benefits of exercise in lowering immediate health risks like cholesterol and blood pressure are huge. This is what a wellness programme needs to do – focus on creating positive behaviours to improve health, not on weight loss (although if that happens, great).
What employees need to do
As an employee, you can show your employer that a wellness programme will make them more money than it costs. Show your management these stats – that the return on investment is 3.27. That means that for each dollar spent on wellness, the company saves $3.27 in absenteeism, poor health affecting work quality, and other employee-related expenses. If your employer isn’t interested, take your health – and brain – into your own hands. Go for a walk at lunchtime and take a colleague or two, hold walking meetings and phone calls, and generally prioritise time in your day for exercise.
Exercise is important to our brains
Chuck on your walking shoes and get outside. Even 7500 steps a day can make you healthier and your brain faster, stronger, and better. It might not seem like you have time to walk around the block, but chances are that time investment will be repaid in full, and then some. Your problem-solving skills become more effective, you’ll say goodbye to sick leave and boost your efficiency – even when the post-lunch slump is looming. When you think about it like that, who can afford not to?