Earlier this year, we asked business owners and decision makers in UK SMEs how they maintained focus and energy throughout the day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost a quarter (24.7%) of respondents said they relied on caffeine as a pick me up, whereas only 0.8% said they went to the gym on their lunch hour.
This got us thinking more about the role that exercise plays in productivity at work, so we reached out to a few experts and fellow business owners to get their thoughts. Is it really necessary to spend time on exercise when there’s already so much to fit into the working week?
Andrew Ivers, Senior Marketing Manager at Bodybuilding.com sets the scene nicely. He said: “We all know what it’s like to be stuck to a desk for numerous hours a day, as we begin to feel lazy and fatigued.”
Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services at AXA PPP healthcare echoed this with his comment: “Sitting at a desk, reading computer screens and office air conditioning can take their toll.”
The benefits of exercise
We wanted to know if exercise could counteract the office fatigue and laziness reported from our experts, and when we reached out for input, we were overwhelmed with responses. We’ve compiled our favourite responses below.
Nicky Cresswell, the Wellbeing Co-ordinator at CABA shared some statistics about the benefits of exercise: “People who are more active during the working day experience a 22% increase in fitness and a 70% improvement in their ability to make complex decisions compared to sedentary colleagues.”
Jeff Archer from The Tonic Corporate Wellness spoke about decision making too: “Too often, busy executives start the day full of energy only to feel their focus and effectiveness wane with each passing hour. Just as it’s crucial to stay hydrated throughout the day and top up energy levels with the right meal and snacks, it’s also vital to keep activity levels up.”
Callum Melly from Body in 8 explained a couple of other benefits: “When we exercise we release mood enhancing endorphins that give us that ‘feel good’ factor, and can help us to focus and perform for the rest of the day. Exercise is also a great way to de-stress and can promote deep sleep which is essential if you want to perform your best at work.”
Dr Helen Johnson from Goddess Acumen considered mental wellbeing with her comment: “Both mindfulness and exercise get us out of our heads. The most important thing for work and home life is to be fully present – it means you are giving the best of yourself but you’ll also avoid giving too much (and stressing everyone out around you too!).”
Fitting exercise into the working day
It seems that there could be a whole range of benefits when it comes to exercise and productivity, but the biggest hurdle for some people could just be the time that working out actually takes. We know that only 0.80% of our survey respondents said they went to the gym on their lunch hour as their main source of energy, but what about the rest of the day?
Archer had some helpful suggestions for how to incorporate exercise into daily life, showing that there isn’t a one size fits all solution for all people.
He said: “For some, the solution is early morning exercise – get it done before anything gets in the way and set yourself up for the day with a rush of blood and oxygen to the brain and muscles. For others, the lunchtime workout is perfect as a way to create two effective halves to a day rather than one long uninterrupted slog. Others will opt for the evening workout to draw a line under the working day and ease out any tension that may have accumulated.”
He continued: “What really matters is that every individual finds the appropriate time for them to exercise – there’s little point becoming fixated on a lunchtime workout for example if all this does is add stress for your day.”
How are businesses advocating exercise?
We heard from some businesses in the UK that are already making steps to encourage employees to get out of their desk chairs to do more physical activity.
One company who got in touch said they used fitness as an employee engagement tool, and that their employees were motivated to get healthier and fitter as they offered vouchers if employees reached certain targets. They said: “Our culture is competitive, and there are many ‘step’ competitions arranged informally between employees. This, among other initiatives, helped us to achieve an Employee Engagement score of 97%; pretty much unheard of.”
James Stringer got in touch from Sweatcoin, which is an app that converts steps into a digital currency that can be used to purchase goods, services and experiences featured on the in-app marketplace. He said: “Businesses are using the Sweatcoin app to incentivise physical activity in the workplace. Instead of giving out expensive activity trackers, Sweatcoin can be used as a corporate wellness tool – incentivising workers to be more active by competing against each other and earning money at the same time.”
Fitness is something also advocated by London Business School on their executive education programmes. Archer explained: “Senior executives and general managers from around the world are given the opportunity to try a selection of workouts, yoga and Pilates classes at various times of the day to see what works best for them. When they return to their organisation, this impacts positively on their day-to-day performance with participants reporting vastly improved energy levels, greater ability to concentrate, reduced stress levels and a renewed capacity to act as a role model and lead their team.”
We also heard from Lucy Parsons who runs her own business, Life More Extraordinary, and personally experienced the benefits of adding exercise to her to-do list.
“I started exercising five or six times a week about eighteen months ago. I noticed my strength and fitness improve drastically in the first few weeks and was hooked.”
She continued: “I found that to make sure I fitted it into my life (running my own business as an academic coach, author and speaker from home as well as being a mum to a young family) I had to get up at 6am and do my exercise in the hour up until 7am when my children woke up. I now find that if I don’t exercise in the morning I get very fidgety and find that I can’t sit still to write for my business or do other tasks.”
Exercise tips from the experts
Our expert contributors have shared some of their best recommendations for types of exercise that can be achieved in the working day, which we’ve summarised below. Get in touch with each company directly if you’d like to find out more about their suggestions.
Dr Winwood had a simple tip: “A 15 minute walk outside will invigorate you with oxygen and daylight…even on a grey day.”
Archer added: “At the most basic level, it’s a great idea to get up and move around every 90 minutes or so when our natural energy rhythms take a dip. This is the ideal way to keep the body healthy and prevent any aches and pains from sitting too long. It’s also a great way to clear the head just as the mind begins to wander and boost focus for the next 90-minutes of concerted effectiveness.”
For longer periods of exercise, he said: “Make sure each workout is balanced with some cardio work such as running, cycling, swimming, X-trainer or stepper; some strength training and some core conditioning and stretching.”
Melly pointed out that it’s possible to do a workout on your lunch break without needing to go to a gym. He said: “If you work in an office, then you can always do a full body circuit workout; you can do it anywhere and you don’t need any equipment. Not only will it break up your day, but it can also set you up for a successful afternoon.”
There are eight exercises he suggests, including: body weight squats, press ups, v-sit ups, mountain climbers, the plank position, alternating lunges (on the spot), hip/glute bridges, and Russian twists. He advises that you should spend 30-45 seconds on each exercise and complete them back to back, completing three to five rounds, and taking two minutes of complete rest between each round.
As part of his Body in 8 programme, every exercise is completed in the tempo 2:1:2 (e.g. if you’re doing a press up, you should take two seconds during the eccentric lowering phase, a one second pause when you’re at the bottom of the movement and under optimal tension, and then two seconds on the concentric pressing up phase).
What about you?
We’d love to hear from you about your exercise initiatives too, so please get in touch with us on social media. You can find us at @Brighter_Biz on Twitter.
To end, we thought we’d share one final inspirational quote from our expert contributors.
“Exercising is a great way to physically and mentally stimulate your body, enhance your mood, and set you up with a proactive mindset that you positively influence your work ethic.” – Callum Melly