True enjoyment comes from activity of the mind and exercise of the body; the two are ever united - Wilhelm von Humboldt An obvious immediate benefit of exercise is that it helps to look after your health. If you are healthy, then you won’t have as much downtime through illness. If you are ill, you either aren’t working at all, or you are working at your most effective level. Keep healthy and keep your productivity up.
As well as the apparent benefits, exercise also has some extra advantages for your productivity. Exercise changes your brain to improve memory and thinking skills. It has been shown to boost the size of the hippocampus. This area of the brain is responsible for verbal memory and learning. Just a ten to forty-minute burst of exercise has been shown to give a boost in concentration. You are giving increased blood flow to the brain which helps to keep you on high alert. You can boost your productivity for up to two hours after exercise. Exercising outside amongst nature enhances inspiration even further. Exercise reduces insulin resistance, reduces inflammation and increases the release of growth factors. Growth factors affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, the abundance of new brain cells and their survival. There is a link between improved memory and reduction in Cathepsin B production.
In a previous article, we saw how sleep affects your productivity, and a further benefit of exercise is that it aids a good night’s sleep. Also, it improves mood, reducing stress and anxiety. Cardiovascular exercise is as good as taking anti-depressants. Endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and endocannabinoids are all released during exercise, which makes us happy. Myokines are produced which protect the brain from stress-induced depression. Missing exercise can lead to a sharp drop in mood. Blood flow drops after just a ten-day break from exercise. As well as your hippocampus, exercise has been shown to increase the volume of the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex, leading to better thinking and memory. With a programme of moderate exercise, for just six months to a year, leading to increases in selected brain areas. A study in twins showed that those who exercise had more grey matter. Studies on exercise have also demonstrated increased resistance to stress and ageing. So, exercise helps with:
We can easily see how these benefits will improve your productivity. A study showed that on days that subjects visited the gym they had better time management, were more productive and had better interactions with their colleagues. Exercise also leaves you feeling more satisfied at the end of the day. Exercise is not a luxury. Make time for it. Don’t use being busy as an excuse for ignoring this critical activity. You aren’t abandoning work but improving your productivity while at work. Midday is the best time for exercise due to circadian rhythms.
Find an exercise that you enjoy. If it is fun, then you are more likely to keep it up. If you find it to be a chore, you won’t last long. Another benefit of picking a fun activity is that you won’t overeat afterwards, unlike after an activity that you find to be onerous, a study has concluded. Invest in improving an activity. Having a goal is essential, it will increase performance, and in turn the benefits you will get from the activity. If you choose to run, get good running shoes, get decent running clothes, get a GPS tracker or phone app, get something for hydration, and so on. Make it enjoyable, make it as comfortable and easy as possible (not the effort that you put in, though!). To stick with an exercise plan, you need to be able to motivate yourself. Like productivity in work, you improve productivity in exercise if you have goals and you track your progress towards those targets. Be sociable, joining with others to exercise will also give you accountability, as you don’t want to be seen to be dropping out and letting your exercise buddies down. As well as improving your sticking chances, exercising with others also makes it more fun, you can laugh while you are doing it. There are two ways of exercising with others, that you may not see the difference between, but it is there. Firstly, you can take part as part of a collective. Examples of a collective include a spinning or yoga class.
Secondly, there is the option of taking part as part of a team and for example, playing football, rugby, hockey, or any other team sport. In both cases you exercise with others, they can both be fun, but the difference is that in a team, the others rely on your presence. If you don’t turn up, then you may lose the game, they may be short and unable to play, and so on. You are more likely to stick at it as others depend on your progress. There is a hierarchy of how likely you are to stick at an activity and to get the most benefit. Exercising as part of a team activity is better than as part of a collective which is better than doing it individually.