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How exercises can boost work performance

July 11, 2023

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Hong Kong indicates that physical exercise can improve performance at work the next day, as a result of increased sleep quality, energy, and ability to concentrate. To reach this conclusion, the scholars analyzed data from approximately 200 professionals from China and the United Kingdom during a ten-day experiment.

“We found that daily physical activity generates a range of resources for the next day, which contributes to work-related outcomes,” Bonnie Hayden Cheng and Yolanda Na Li, coauthors of the study, wrote in a note published in the Harvard Business Review.

They argue that moderate-intensity exercise has the most impact on work performance. “Even short periods of physical activity, even 20 minutes each day, were sufficient to generate resources that contributed to employees’ next-day task performance and health,” they reported.

Exercises as good resources

According to the researchers, the first resource immediately provided by physical activity is quality sleep, or the degree to which a person is satisfied with their daily sleep experience. The second resource is vigor, which is associated with energy and vitality. And the third is task focus, a cognitive resource that supports enhanced information processing, attention, and concentration.

How to turn exercise into a constant practice

The co-authors of the article stated that it can take some time for a person to experience the work-related benefits of physical activity and that they tend to show up the day after exercise. Therefore, they give three suggestions on how to turn exercise into a constant practice: 

  • Focus on building a habit of daily physical activity
  • Remember that some is better than none
  • Motivated or not, just get moving

“Our research reveals that even employees who dislike exercising can reap benefits from daily physical activity. We also found that autonomously motivated individuals are more likely to participate in physical activity, implicating the “fun factor” as a key driver of physical activity engagement — so find an activity that makes exercise less onerous and more enjoyable. If a bootcamp session isn’t your thing, try a challenging hike or a boxing class. The next time you want to swap exercise for a comfy couch, aim for just 20 minutes.“, Cheng and Li conclude.

Source: Wiley Online Library | HBR