How Exercise Boosts Productivity

In athletics, enhancing performance (legally) is an holistic approach. Strength coaches, sport coaches, psychologists, muscle and tissue therapists and team cohesion activities all play a role in building the the best athlete. The mind and body are recognized as having to be in sync for the best results. Why is it that the body, and indeed the mental health of an individual is not nurtured in the business world to help build a more focused and productive employee? Why do we not do this for ourselves if and when we want to maximize our efforts in building a business or helping one grow?

Part of the answer is, money. Businesses don’t want to invest in personal trainers, counselors, and massage therapists so that each and every individual is performing at their best. The same goes for those of us who work for themselves. Some do invest a little though and the results are outstanding, even with a reduced hourly work week!

Want to find a way to boost your productivity, with or without the help of your, generous (ahem) bosses? All you need to do is take care of your brain by taking care of the rest of your body. But let’s take a look at a few ways this happens.

As we age, our brain function slows down, and up until fairly recently we believed that this was not preventable nor reversible: that our brains neurons were unable to grow and adapt (neuroplasticity) as adults. But research has shown that nueroplasticity does in fact occur in adult humans. A paper published in 2010 (Neuro) has shown that mitochondria (little engines that produce energy) in the brain may play a significant role in the production of new neurons (specifically in the ventral hippocampus) and that disturbances in mitochondria may be one of the underlying causes of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and certain psychiatric disorders. This simple finding has had an impressive impact on how we look at maintaining and building mental ability as we age.

Exercise has shown to increase the number of mitochondria in the body as well as enhance their function. On top of allowing for neuoplasticity, by increasing the number of mitochondria in your muscle tissues, you are helping to stabilize your blood sugar. Your brain uses up a lot of energy throughout the day and it needs sugars to do so. What it doesn’t need is sugar flooding, which can happen when our body’s insulin levels get wonky from poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle. The sudden spikes of sugar may give us short bursts of what feels like concentration but it also sets us up for crashes. These crashes tend to be longer than the highs and have detrimental affects in the long run.

Do you ever have a problem remembering details, names, or have difficulty recalling the right word during conversations or writing e-mails? The hippocampus is also the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. As mentioned above, exercise helps give us the ability to  build new neural connections and thus, allowing for better recall and memory formation. A study published by the American College of Sports Medicine showed just this. Two groups were asked to memorize a list of letters. One group then partook in a workout that included running and weight lifting. The other group did no exercise. When subjects were asked to recall the list of letters the group that did the exercises scored significantly higher then their lazier counterparts.

Stress is a productivity killer. It takes away your ability to concentrate, it effects decision making and it has a negative impact on mood and sleep quality, which in turn messes with your concentration and decision making! Just great.

When we get stressed, the hormone Cortisol is released into our bloodstream. It helps us manage through short bursts of intense situations but when spiked repeatedly it can increase fat synthesis and storage, reduce immune function and destabilize blood glucose levels. This can lead to illness, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and what they are now calling type 3 diabetes: Alzheiner’s disease (check out this NY Times post on the subject). The more fat you have the more Cortisol you release, it’s a hell of a cycle to get out of and on top of that, diabetes increases your chances of depression, while depression increases your chances of getting diabetes. So let’s try and avoid these terrible cycles altogether, shall we?

A moderate level of regular exercise is great for balancing hormones, including Cortisol.. It is true that high intensity exercise has been shown to spike blood levels of Cortisol, but this can be managed by timing your training and eating properly before and after exercise. Also, our bodies can deal with short spikes of stress within the day, it is the frequent spikes that get us into trouble.

Aerobic endurance training, specifically running, has shown to elicit a stronger Cortisol response than resistance training. Sprints and medium intensity weight training is your best bet to managing your weight and hormone levels, as well as staving off diabetes and maintaining alertness. If you love running and don’t want to give it up, then don’t. Do the things that make you happy. But, if you think picking up running and training for a marathon is going to get you in shape and help you with stress, well, there is a good chance it won’t. Bummed? Not me! What’s better for the brain is also better for the knees!

If you want to improve productivity, you may need to work longer hours or at least function more efficiently for the hours you do work. This means you need to maintain your energy levels. As mentioned above, certain kinds of exercise can improve the number of mitochondria in your body. The more you have the more potential energy you can create. The longer you go without exercise the less muscle tissue you will have. Your muscles hold the key to potential energy as well as an important element to fighting infection: amino acids. The busier you are and the older you get, the more important it becomes to build and maintain muscle mass. I’m not talking Schwarzenegger levels, just a reasonable amount of lean muscle will do in keeping you healthy, alert and full of energy.

You know what kind of person I really like working with? If you guessed “grumpy jerks” you guessed wrong!  Productivity is contagious and so are moods. Whether you work for yourself or in a small team or a large corporation, chances are your mood is going to effect your performance, and that of others. Mood, be it general grumpiness (I am a candidate) or severe depression, can be helped dramatically by regular exercise. Important studies are currently underway to pinpoint how exactly this works but preliminary studies suggest theories that the endorphins released during a workout make us feel good, relaxes the body and regulates sleep patterns. Improved sleep can act like a buffer for the brain, protecting it from anxiety and depression.

A study at Duke University separated subjects with major depression disorder into four treatment groups; supervised exercise, home based exercise, antidepressant therapy and placebo. After four months of treatment it appeared that the groups with exercise based therapy were just as effective as the antidepressant therapy and the placebo group showed a much smaller rate of remission. A follow up to this study one year later showed that those subjects who continued some kind of exercise regime had fewer depression symptoms than those who did not.

If you are thinking about dropping your gym membership because you don’t have enough time, or it’s too expensive, you may want to think twice. Invest in yourself. The improvements you make in general health, alertness, ability to focus, mood, memory formation, recall and stress will undoubtedly make you more efficient and effective at work. In the long run (not literally, don’t run long!) exercise may be the thing that gets you a promotion, doubles profits for your business or frees up more time for you to enjoy things outside of work.

Have at it and enjoy the process,


Want to boost your productivity by training with Joey or a member of the B-Fit team? Contact us to set up an evaluation session. Don’t live in Montreal? Take advantage of our On-Line Fitness and Nutrition Programs !



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