Boosting job performance with breaks for physical activity
A few months ago I read an article from the New York Times that highlighted the frustration many people experience when regular physical activity does not result in weight loss (Losing Patience, Not Weight by Bruce Weber, April 21, 2005). I became enthralled by a passage in the article about Jeremy Morris, considered by many as the founder of the science of physical activity epidemiology and exercise science. Dr. Morris published an article in 1953 that revealed a significant lower rate of heart attacks among the conductors on double-decker buses in London when compared to the drivers. It turns out the conductors had to climb the stairs several times a day collecting tickets while the drivers did not. The conductors climbed around 600 stairs a day, while the drivers sat for about 90% of their shift. The conductors experienced less than half the incidence of heart attacks as the drivers. A quick search on the internet revealed many interesting facts about Dr. Morris. He turned 95 this year. He followed-up on his original study to prove the protective benefit from heart attacks was from physical activity and not from body size. The London Transport Authority provided Dr. Morris the size of trousers supplied to its staff. It turned out the active men had lower heart attack rates whether they were “slim, average or portly.” Additional studies compared active walking postmen to less active government workers and confirmed the finding that physical activity was protective against coronary hearty disease. Dr. Morris is noted for communicating much meaning through few words and in 1994 he called physical activity the “best buy in public health.” I offer Dr. Morris’ life-time achievements as the backdrop for the thought bullets this month highlighting a research project completed by a group of British researchers who found employees improved their job performance and moods by being physically active during their lunch breaks.
The study looked at 200
workers from three sites: a university, a computer company, and a life
insurance firm. Workers completed a questionnaire about their job
performance and mood. Results from the questionnaires were then compared to
the days workers exercised at work compared to the days they did not.
Results from the study were recently reported at the annual meeting of the
American College of Sports Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.
Six out of 10 workers
reported their time management skills, mental performance, and ability to
meet deadlines were improved on the days they exercised. All of the study
participants engaged in regular exercise and all felt they did a good job at
Jim McKenna, one of the
lead researchers of the study, stated the workers who exercised at work
“went home feeling more satisfied with their day” (quote from MSNBC).
Additionally, the type of exercise didn’t seem to matter. Most workers
reported spending 30 to 60 minutes at lunch doing a wide variety of
activities including yoga, aerobics, strength training, and basketball. Dr.
McKenna reported no difference in findings according to the length or
intensity of the workout.
Exercise during lunch
improved the mood of workers in the afternoon. This finding is supported by
other research. People who were physically active during lunch reported a
more tolerant attitude to themselves and their work in the afternoon.
Overall job performance was boosted about 15% by exercise.
Exercise was found to be
both a mood “energizer” and a mood “tranquilizer.” People who exercised
during lunch reported higher energy levels in the afternoon and also
reported a better ability to deal with stress.
This study reported on the benefits of exercise over lunch time, but other studies have reported similar results from shorter bouts of physical activity including short breaks for brisk walks, or opting to take the stairs instead of the elevator a few times each day.
Stenson J. Exercise may make you a better worker. MSNBC.com. June 14, 2005.
Paffenbarger RS, Blair SN, Lee IM. A history of physical activity, cardiovascular health and longevity; the scientific contributions of Jeremy N Morris. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2001;30:1184-1192.
Hardman A. Oration honoring Emeritus Professor Jeremy Morris. Loughborough University address. December 16, 2002.
Weber B. Losing Patience, Not Weight. The New York Times. April 21, 2005.
Compiled by Betty Holmes, MS, RD
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