On top of it’s other benefits, exercise may make you a better worker.
Want to be smarter in 30 minutes? Nope, Were not asking you to crack open a book, although that’s never a bad idea… this type of intelligence boost goes deeper. We’re talking about actually building your brain from the inside out. This type of intelligence isn’t adding information to your brain… it’s boosting the brains horsepower from the core. A boost that can increase productivity, improve creativity, and yield much greater decision making.
When most people think of the benefits of exercise, their first impulse is to focus on the physical benefits. The physical benefits of exercise have become common knowledge. Improved cardiovascular health, a more attractive physical shape, a heart that’s ready to take on the world. Everything from a reduction of the risk of nearly every disease to drastically improving mood. But over the years scientists have also been quietly gathering data that seems to suggest a much lesser known benefit…. exercise may also drastically improve cognitive abilities.
A recent study at Leeds Metropolitan University in the U.K, was conducted regarding how job performance was affected by exercise. They interviewed 200 employees and asked them to complete questionnaires that related to different aspects of job performance on days where they engaged in an exercise program and on days that they didn’t engage. Employees were free to choose which physical activity they engaged in including yoga, strength training, weight training, basketball, aerobics and more. Questions revolved around productivity, ability to stay on task, working uninterrupted by breaks and more.
Over 60% said that their performance in those areas improved with the average improvement being around 15%. Improved concentration, better memory, increased ability and speed of learning, extended mental stamina, greater creativity, and lower levels of stress. All from 30 minutes of exercise.
The study participants were also asked to rate their morning/afternoon moods and the exercise also seemed to improve mood drastically and make work more enjoyable, an effect that everyone can benefit from. McKenna states: “The people who exercised went home feeling more satisfied with their day. We were surprised, we weren’t expecting this amount of effect.” McKenna continued: “After exercise, people adopted a more tolerant attitude to themselves and to their work, They were more tolerant of their own shortcomings and to those of others.” Specific behavioral changes included not losing their temper as much and a reduction in quarrelsome behaviors. This is important considering how essential interpersonal connections are in the workplace. In a world where getting along with others directly influences your success, results like these have important implications.
What may even be more exciting is that according to this study, the amount or type of exercise didn’t seem to matter. Anything seemed to help. McKenna stated “We could find no difference according to length of exercise or duration or intensity, you still got the effect no matter what you did.”
As if these improvements in mental horsepower benefits weren’t enough, there’s still more. While it may sound counterintuitive, participants also reported a drastic improvement in energy. Exercisers were significantly likely to become fatigued in the afternoon. This effect is well-known among researchers and those who exercise regularly, where people who expend energy exercising are paradoxically rewarded with more.
Other studies show consistent results. In response to a meta-analysis covering 70 studies on exercise and fatigue, Patrick O’Connor, PhD states “More than 90% of the studies showed the same thing: Sedentary people who completed a regular exercise program reported improved fatigue compared to groups that did not exercise,” says O’Connor. “It’s a very consistent effect.” He notes: “A lot of times when people are fatigued, the last thing they want to do is exercise, but if you’re physically inactive and fatigued, being just a bit more active will help.” The meta-analysis showed that exercise had a greater effect on fatigue than stimulant medications such as Amphetamine and Ritalin, powerful medications which are often prescribed for ADHD.
Further Reading on the effects of exercise and ADHD:
Web MD: How Exercise Can Help With Adult ADHD: Brain Chemistry and More
Current Psychiatry Reports: Emerging Support for a Role of Exercise in Attention-Deficit
ADDitude Mag: Exercise and ADHD: How Physical Activity Boosts Your Brain
Edward Hallowell, M.D., a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and coauthor of Delivered from Distraction states “Cardio is one of the best treatments for ADD and poor mental focus, as well as for anxiety,” he says. “It’s like a wonder drug for the brain.”
Exercise seems to help cognitive function and mood via a number of direct and indirect means. It seems to release dopamine levels, leading to better communication between brain cells. By improving mood, sleep, anxiety and stress response, it help people think better overall. The benefits of exercise on mood are well established. A study at Duke University shows that exercise was just as effective at lifting depression as antidepressant drug Zoloft.
Another study by Charles Hillman, professor at University of Illinois titled “Cognition Following Acute Aerobic Exercise,” found that 30 minutes of exercise resulted in a 5–10% increase in executive function. According to Web MD: “Executive function is a set of mental skills that help you get things done. These skills are controlled by an area of the brain called the frontal lobe. Executive function helps you: manage time, pay attention, switch focus, plan and organize, remember details, avoid saying or doing the wrong thing, do things based on your experience, multitask and more. When executive function isn’t working as it should, people’s behavior is less controlled. This can affect your ability to: work or go to school, do things independently, maintain relationships.”
In regards to ADHD: individuals with ADHD have been shown to have lower dopamine activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for executive functioning. Lower dopaming functioning in the prefrontal cortex can lead to a decrease in many cognitive abilities. The cognitive benefits of exercise may not be very surprising given how much exercise increases dopamine. And considering how much dopamine is related to motivation, it’s no surprise that it also may promote “go-getter” type behaviors.
Thomas C. Corley, Author of “Rich Habits — The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals” interviewed 233 wealthy individuals (including 177 self-made millionaires) and 128 non-wealthy individuals in 2007 in order to find differences in lifestyle. He states “Aerobic exercise was the foundation of the daily exercise regimen for 76% of the wealthy, successful people in my study. Aerobic exercise includes running, jogging, walking, biking, swimming etc.”
There appears to be no shortage of personal experiences raving about the benefits of exercise on performance as well. You don’t have to look very far in order to find successful men and women who attribute much of their success to the benefits of exercise.
After Richard Haig, CEO of Haig Security Systems turned a daily 2 mile-walk into a ultra-running he stated “It’s no coincidence that I’ve done more to increase the company’s value in the past 2 years than I had in the previous 10.”
And while exercise may not turn average mail-room worker into the next Bill Gates (or maybe it will, who knows…) the benefits of exercise are becoming increasingly hard to ignore.
Thanks for reading!