Why workers at work need to act more like athletes: Part 2

Why workers at work need to act more like athletes: Part 2

Photo by Hunters Race on UnsplashIn my previous post, I explained the importance of how workers with physically demanding occupations need to prepare for work with a proper warm-up, just like how athletes prepare for training and competitions. Does this mean that workers, entrepreneurs, and executives whose jobs require little physical exertion can get away with only doing their work tasks instead of spending valuable work time on mobility work and exercises?

The title of this article likely gave away the answer already (hint: no).

While there is plenty of evidence out there on the long-term benefits of physical activity on health [1], I am going to provide some compelling reasons that are more directly related to both job performance (and thus the company’s bottom line) and occupational health & safety for all types of workers, including those with sedentary jobs:

  • Cognitive performance and focus is improved immediately following exercise.
  • Physical activity immediately decreases anxiety and improves mood.
  • A single session of physical activity improves sleep.
  • Energy and blood sugar levels are improved following physical activity.
  • The right exercises can counteract the negative effects of sitting, poor posture, sustained positions, and repetitive movements.
  • Being fitter allows you to use your body to its full capacity while minimizing injury.

 

Of course, these short-term effects of exercise compound when the exercise bouts are repeated and contribute to the many long-term benefits of living a physically active lifestyle.

 

Cognitive performance and focus is improved immediately following exercise

Wish you could be smarter and focus better? What if I told you that you could achieve this instantly in just a few minutes (without taking drugs)?

Exercise doesn’t just benefit the body. It also has a huge number of benefits on the brain—so much so that the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report has a whole chapter dedicated to evidence on how physical activity impacts brain health. There is strong evidence that a single session of moderate- to vigorous- intensity physical activity improves cognition (i.e. your brain’s ability to process and respond to information), including executive function (more complex cognitive function), during the post-exercise period [1-9]. This means that exercise will improve the speed and accuracy of mental processes [1-9], memory [1, 5], attention, and the ability to focus and/or behave in the desired/appropriate way when exposed to irrelevant/conflicting information (known as inhibitory/interference control) [1, 3, 7, 8]. These effects apply to various types of exercise [1], including aerobic and muscular exercise [5, 6], regardless of fitness level [2]. The effects are especially strong for older adults [2].

While it is obvious that tasks requiring complex thinking and deep focus (e.g. writing reports, analyzing data) would particularly benefit from improved cognitive function and focus, even tasks that are seemingly simple (such as pressing the brake pedal when another car cuts in front of you, or performing data entry accurately) require cognitive resources. All workers would thus become more productive and effective at their jobs with the mental boost provided by exercise.

Physical activity immediately decreases anxiety and improves mood

A single session of exercise has been shown to decrease anxiety, particularly for females, adults aged 25 years and older, and sedentary individuals [1, 9-11]. Better yet, it also boost positive mood and emotion [12].

A single session of physical activity improves sleep

Regardless of fitness level, exercise intensity, or exercise type, physical activity makes it easier for you to fall asleep and improves your sleep quality and duration [1]. Physical activity is particularly useful for those with obstructive sleep apnea, as it decreases the severity of the condition.

Energy and blood sugar levels are improved following physical activity

Having trouble staying awake at your desk after lunch, or worse, during a meeting with your boss? Using your muscles helps to keep your blood sugar levels more stable so you’re less likely to experience dips in energy. Additionally, a single session of aerobic or resistance exercise improves feelings of energy afterwards [13], which makes sense given that exercise increases blood flow and adrenalin in the body.

The effects of exercise on blood sugar are even more impactful for those with Type 2 diabetes: For these individuals, exercise has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels for 3 hours afterwards [14]. Additionally, if the exercise session consisted of both aerobic and resistance exercise, blood sugar levels were more stable, which is important for delaying diabetes-related complications.

The right exercises can counteract the negative effects of sitting, poor posture, sustained positions, and repetitive movements

Regardless of whether you’re sitting nice and tall or slumped over in your chair or vehicle, sitting too much can make certain muscles such as your glutes and abdominals more prone to becoming weak (“gluteal amnesia” is an actual term) while making other body parts such as your spine, hip flexors, and hamstrings less flexible. Additionally, common postural faults when standing/sitting (e.g. forward head, rounded shoulders, protruding abdomen) are not only less attractive, but may also lead to aches and pain, weakness, poor mobility, and increased injury risk. Finally, tasks that are repetitive (e.g. typing, using a computer mouse) can also lead to aches, stiffness, and injuries.

While remembering to change positions/tasks and to correct your posture throughout the day can help counteract these negative effects, a more effective way to attain and maintain a well-functioning, strong, and pain-free body would be to perform the appropriate exercises to improve mobility and muscle function.

Being fitter allows you to use your body to its full capacity while minimizing injury

For the occasional time when physical exertion is required (e.g. changing the water bottle at the water cooler, moving heavy boxes of papers), having a strong body that moves well not only allows you to do the task at hand, but protects you from getting hurt. Moving well also means you’re less likely to get hurt from a slip, trip, or fall. While this may seem like a trivial benefit, 21% of BC’s workplace injuries in 2016 were due to falls (12% were falls on the same level), and falls make up an even higher percentage of injuries in sectors in which the work requires less physical exertion [15].

What to do today

  1. Aim to get in a bout of moderate intensity physical activity before and/or during your work day so you can work with better cognitive function, less anxiety, better mood, and more energy. The sessions do not have to be long, so even a brisk walk or a few body weight squats during a quick break can be beneficial. (The research indicates that the greatest improvement in cognitive function occurs following 11-20 minutes of exercise, though shorter or longer durations of exercise also provide these benefits [1].)
  2. Do the appropriate exercises/stretches to attain and maintain a well-functioning, strong, and pain-free body. A qualified professional at Engineered Bodies can assess your needs and design an appropriate routine for you to do at work, at home, or at the gym so you can continue to look good, feel good, and perform well at work and in life.
  3. Create the environment for success. Knowledge is useless without action, so how will you ensure that you include exercise into your busy schedule? Strategies such as planning ahead, having an accountability partner, creating reminders, and keeping sneakers at work can help. Better yet, having a workplace culture that actively promotes physical activity at the workplace would make it harder for you to not be physically active.

 

Engineered Bodies’ Corporate Services helps people move and feel better in their bodies and have better mental performance by (1) teaching them exercises they can do throughout the day at work and (2) by creating a workplace culture where fitness, health, and safety are valued. Contact us so we can create a custom solution for your needs.

 

References

1.         2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018.

2.         Ludyga, S., et al., Acute effects of moderate aerobic exercise on specific aspects of executive function in different age and fitness groups: A meta-analysis. Psychophysiology, 2016. 53(11): p. 1611-1626.

3.         Yanagisawa, H., et al., Acute moderate exercise elicits increased dorsolateral prefrontal activation and improves cognitive performance with Stroop test. Neuroimage, 2010. 50(4): p. 1702-10.

4.         McMorris, T. and B.J. Hale, Differential effects of differing intensities of acute exercise on speed and accuracy of cognition: A meta-analytical investigation. Brain and cognition, 2012. 80(3): p. 338-351.

5.         Lambourne, K. and P. Tomporowski, The effect of exercise-induced arousal on cognitive task performance: a meta-regression analysis. Brain Res, 2010. 1341: p. 12-24.

6.         Chang, Y.K., et al., The effects of acute exercise on cognitive performance: a meta-analysis. Brain Res, 2012. 1453: p. 87-101.

7.         O’Leary, K.C., et al., The effects of single bouts of aerobic exercise, exergaming, and videogame play on cognitive control. Clin Neurophysiol, 2011. 122(8): p. 1518-25.

8.         Verburgh, L., et al., Physical exercise and executive functions in preadolescent children, adolescents and young adults: a meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med, 2014. 48(12): p. 973-9.

9.         Davis, J., Two Awesome Hours: Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done. 2015, New York: HarperCollins.

10.       Ensari, I., et al., Meta-Analysis of Acute Exercise Effects on State Anxiety: An Update of Randomized Controlled Trials over the Past 25 Years. Depress Anxiety, 2015. 32(8): p. 624-34.

11.       Petruzzello, S.J., et al., A meta-analysis on the anxiety-reducing effects of acute and chronic exercise. Outcomes and mechanisms. Sports Med, 1991. 11(3): p. 143-82.

12.       Reed, J. and D.S. Ones, The effect of acute aerobic exercise on positive activated affect: A meta-analysis. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 2006. 7(5): p. 477-514.

13.       Loy, B.D., et al., The effect of a single bout of exercise on energy and fatigue states: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Fatigue (Abingdon, Eng.), 2013. 1(4): p. 223-242.

14.       Figueira, F.R., et al., Aerobic and combined exercise sessions reduce glucose variability in type 2 diabetes: crossover randomized trial. PLoS One, 2013. 8(3): p. e57733.

15.       WorkSafeBC Statistics 2016. 2016, WorkSafeBC. https://www.worksafebc.com/en/resources/about-us/annual-report-statistics/2016-stats?lang=en.

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