Hannah Gomersal looks at the positive benefits exercise can have on our stress, well-being and professional performance.
In my role as Senior Consultant at RedLaw, I speak to lawyers each day each with different drivers behind looking for a new role. However, many speak of burnout, long hours, stress and the negative impact this is having on their day to day lives and well-being as well as their professional performance in the workplace.
The impact of stress, anxiety and depression on our mental health are unfortunately becoming increasingly all too common in the workplace and are the leading causes of sickness absence. Mental Health Awareness week which ran last month did a fantastic job in highlighting the importance of looking after your own mental health and well-being.
And exercise is one of the many positive steps we can take in tackling and reducing stress whilst improving well-being and professional performance. It has many benefits, and the good news for time strapped city workers: research shows that tiny changes will have a significant influence on our day to day – very short, intense bursts of exercise, perhaps for just a few minutes a week, can have a real impact on one’s overall fitness.
Incentives to get active:
It reduces stress: Research published in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention supports the stress-relieving effects of exercise that you’ve known anecdotally for so long. When researchers offered 57 workers classes in weight loss/diet, stress, exercise, and smoking cessation, those who exercised reported less stress than the control group, an average rating of 4.7 compared to 6.5 on a stress scale, respectively;
It improves cognitive functioning of the brain: Exercise improves the speed, efficiency, and accuracy of cognitive functioning by improving attentional focus and concentration leading to better professional performance;
It makes your more efficient and process information faster: 15 percent overall boost in work productivity, according to research out of the UK’s Leeds Metropolitan University – and that may translate to an eight-hour, 48-minute workday instead of a ten-hour workday…happy days!;
It makes you resilient: The resilience, the ability to push past stressors that are particularly prevalent in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can serve you well at the office. A review published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that athletes deal with three types of stressors: personal, organizational, and competitive (sounds like a day at the office, right?), and that the psychological benefits of exercise—namely positivity, motivation, confidence, focus—help them push past the stressors to reach their goals;
It decreases your risk of job burnout: Exercise produces a protein called PGC-1alpha, which breaks down kynurenine, a substance that can build up as a result of stress. This can then reduce the risk of anxiety, depression and job burnout.
How much exercise time are we talking about?
Martin Gibala, professor and chair of the department of kinesiology at McMaster University, has been studying high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for more than a decade. He has been focusing on the comparison between a large amount of traditional training to a relatively small dose of intervals, in terms of both the amount of exercise and the time commitment. And the good news – you can get similar benefits from doing short bursts of HIIT to a large amount of traditional training.
The latest study looked the benefits of a single minute of intense cycling within a 10-minute workout three times a week. That’s just thirty minutes of exercise a week. As a result cardiorespiratory fitness increased by 12% in six weeks, something that translates to a 12 to 15 per cent reduction in your risk of developing cardiovascular and other diseases.
If that’s the benefit of one minute of intense exercise in ten minutes of workout, what would four minutes of intense exercise in a ten-minute workout do? I imagine the results will be even more impressive, and this is still just thirty minutes of working out a week.
And if we need any more incentive to lace up those trainers – take a look at the diagram below.
In the time-poor, often long-hour legal work environment, a few minutes of exercise may be crucial to ensuring well-being in the long term.