Did you know that physical activity levels have not improved in more than 20 years, nearly one and a half billion adults are insufficiently active around the globe, and it’s twice as bad in high-income countries? Physical activity can help prevent cardiovascular diseases and some types of cancer while improving physical and mental well-being. Yet, until recently, there hasn’t been much research on exercise and productivity at the office.
According to the abstract of a new study, “Findings across two studies consistently reveal that autonomous motivation prompts employees’ average levels of daily physical activity, which, on a daily basis, generates resource caravans—physical (sleep quality), affective (vigor), and cognitive (task focus)—that, in turn, variously benefit next-day performance (task and creative performance) and health (somatic symptoms).” The authors shared their noteworthy findings from the study with Harvard Business Review.
Motivation for physical activity predicts physical activity.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but as the authors point out, many New Year’s resolutions go unfulfilled every year. They note that someone’s autonomous motivation or self-determination is a crucial indicator of whether or not they will participate in physical activity. They will be more inclined to do it if they find it a positive experience and not something they would rather avoid.
Physical activity accrues next-day, work-relevant resources.
The authors coined the term “resource caravans” to denote the next-day resources that physical activity created and contributed to work-related outcomes. Sleep quality improved, “Physical activity promotes protein synthesis and facilitates quality sleep as a homeostatic feedback process benefitting the body and brain.” Other resources they found include vigor, energy, vitality, and task focus, enhancing information processing, attention, and concentration.
Physical activity improves next-day job performance and health.
According to the authors, much of the existing research on physical activity has been limited. It focused on activity over a defined period rather than over time which contributed to inconsistent findings, including a drop in productivity right after the activity.
This is an essential aspect of their research. The following day’s impact of physical activity generated the resource caravans for sleep, focus, and energy. “Physical and affective resources serve to reduce daily bodily pains; cognitive resources contribute more to daily task performance; and affective resources and cognitive resources are stronger predictors of self-rated creative performance.”
Job self-efficacy shapes the capacity to gain resources from physical activity.
Another interesting finding is a person’s perception of their ability to perform in their role, termed job self-efficacy, improves the resource-generating benefits of daily physical activity. “People with higher levels of self-efficacy tend to hold stronger positive beliefs in their motivation and ability to acquire work-related resources from daily physical activity.”
If these findings resonate with you, the authors provide three ways to encourage you to get moving, and of course, they are all backed by research.
- Focus on building a habit of daily physical activity
- Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate work-related benefits
- Next-day resource gains are significant with consistency
- Remember that some is better than none
- Don’t make excuses to avoid physical activity
- The World Health Organization recommends 2.5 hours of moderate or 1.25 hours of intense exercise per week, less than 1.5% of your time during the week.
- Motivated or not, get moving
- Find ways to make your physical activity fun, and you’ll be more motivated
- If you’re not feeling like it, make a goal to be active for just 20 minutes
Some people are more motivated to be active than others, but the impact of physical activity goes beyond health and can improve your performance at work. See if your company offers any health benefits you can take advantage of, or talk to your HR department about your desire to improve your performance through physical activity.
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