British researchers recently presented findings from their study, which examined nearly 200 workers and their attitudes and participation in physical activity during their work day, at the meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee. Participants of the study worked at one of three locations: a university, a computer company, and a life insurance firm. All participants completed a questionnaire related to their job performance and overall mood on days in which they exercised and those which they did not. Restrictions were not placed on the study participants with regards to mode or duration of the exercise activity. When left to their own choice, the majority of individuals exercised between 30 and 60 minutes in activities ranging from walking, yoga, strength training, and basketball. Jim McKenna, lead author of the study and professor of physical activity and health at Leeds Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom stated that the mode of exercise did not seem to matter. “We could find no difference according to length of exercise or duration or intensity. You still got the effect no matter what you did.” The effect that McKenna speaks of is the improvement in time management skills, mental performance and ability to meet deadlines cited by 60% of the workers involved with the study. Overall, researchers observed approximately a 15% increase in overall performance, prompting the following reaction from Professor McKenna, “We were surprised. We weren’t expecting this amount of effect.”
Overall performance was not the only thing affected by exercise in these study participants. Focus group discussions revealed that the pressures of their jobs were more easily handled by those who exercised than those who did not. Based upon the questionnaires, the researchers were able to distinguish an overall improvement in mood in those who exercised during the work day. According to McKenna, these results concur with previous research, “There’s a very strong mood effect with exercise. After exercise, people adopted a more tolerant attitude to themselves and to their work.” The likelihood of afternoon fatigue was also much less likely in those individuals exercising during the day when compared to those individuals not exercising.
The important take home message of this research is the extra incentive it provides employers with to provide their employees with the means to participate in an exercise program. What may seem like an added expense initially, may actually lead to a reduction in the number of sick days in addition to an overall decrease in healthcare costs. Larger corporations may have the luxury of incorporating a fitness facility into their location, providing a convenient, easily accessible exercise outlet for their employees. However, smaller companies need to be a bit more creative, due to limited space and expendable cash for on-site facility development and maintenance. Establishing a program that rewards employees for exercise at an off-site facility may be possible, or bringing a personal trainer or group exercise instructor to your facility once or twice a week are some affordable options. According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) 4 percent (1.65 million) of the 41.3 million Americans who belonged to a health club were members of a corporate facility. Currently, Congress is reviewing a bill called the Workforce Health Improvement Program Act, which would allow employees tax-free health club compensation from their employer. Using incentives to get more of America’s workforce active is a benefit for all involved.