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Up and Out Leadership. Get Up, and Get Outside: Benefits of Exercise on Cognition and Productivity.


First, I'm not a Medical Doctor, but I can personally attest to the mental and physical benefits of simply breaking away from a work task for a bit of exercise. It clears the mind, and circulates the blood throughout the body. Not to mention, it gets you away from your desk for a bit. But please, don't take my word for it. Scientific evidence based on neuroimaging approaches since at least 2005 has demonstrated the impact of physical activity on the improvement of cognitive health and physical health. In other words... It's science...


The Science... Just bear with me for a second...


Cognition can be scientifically defined, but to put it simply, cognition is our ability to think and understand. Medical studies, covering the past two decades, show that exercise effects cognition by affecting "molecular events related to the management of energy metabolism and synaptic plasticity" (US National Library of Medicine, 2014). In other words, exercise promotes healthy brain function by increasing the performance of the communication mechanism within the synapses of your brain. A growing body of evidence supports the idea that the introduction of of exercise, even if it's just a small increase from your normal routine, promotes vitality and an increase in function of the central nervous system, and has been found to help prevent neurological disorders. Medical evidence shows us that exercise enhances mental health, has obvious impacts on physical health, and could even prove to reduce cognitive decay in aging and psychiatric disorders. All this to say, that exercise makes your brain function at a higher level and could slow or prevent cognitive decay (Your brain slowing down).

Ok, here's the "Why" for leaders: Secondary Effects on Productivity.


Organizations are increasingly promoting and encouraging their people to get up from their desks, go outside, and take a break. This...Is...Great!! According to a survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2017, more than half of workplaces in the United States promote health programs that focus on physical activity, nutrition, and stress management. The survey showed that 69 percent of worksites that had a health promotion program, had it in place for three years or longer.

What this means for employers and employees alike is that taking time away from your desk and encouraging others to join you, can have positive impacts well beyond the physical and mental well-being of humans. According to a peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Exercise Physiology, "improved levels of fitness may positively influence employees’ productivity, job satisfaction and absenteeism." See! While it may seem like taking time away from a task to exercise would be "bad for business", SCIENCE tells us that this break could help you clear your head, love your job, and take fewer sick days. Now, what employer wouldn't love that?!


Bottom Line... At the End...

You don't have to run a 5k during your lunch break to benefit from these affects. As leaders, it would behoove us to allow (or highly encourage) our people to take a break during the day to get outside for some fresh air, stretching, walking, running, biking, deep breathing, or any other healthy alternative to sitting at a desk. 2020 has been a year of challenges and new norms. Workforces are interacting through teleconferences and video teleconferences, forcing static lifestyles and unhealthy habits. Believe me, I've fallen prey to these habits many times. But I encourage you to take a break and get out there. It's never too late to start, and it's always a good idea. The outcome may surprise you. Start strong, and finish well!


Here are some great links to some great info.

  1. Shedding Light on the Effects of Moderate Acute Exercise on Working Memory Performance in Healthy Older Adults: An fNIRS Study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7693615/

  2. The Influence of Exercise on Cognitive Abilities: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951958/

  3. CDC: Half of Workplaces Offer Health/Wellness Programs: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/p0422-workplaces-offer-wellness.html


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