Working in an office, it’s easy to view our mind and body as two very separate entities. While we sit at our desk, making calculations and analysing findings, we’re using our mind. When we leave the office and head to the gym, we’re using our body.
In reality, this perception couldn’t be further from the truth. Caring for our physical health has profound effects on our mental health, and vice versa. With our physios working extensively with some of Hong Kong’s largest corporations to support employee health and wellbeing, we see it daily: those that proactively take steps to care for their physical health through exercise display fewer signs of excessive stress, burnout and mental exhaustion (to name a few), while enjoying greater job satisfaction.
With 12% of Hong Kong’s working population having moderate or severe symptoms of depression, and every employee losing an average of over 616 productive work hours each year due to health-related reasons, today we’re sharing nine of the many mind-body benefits you stand to gain by using exercise to maximise your wellbeing at work.
1. Brighten Your Mood
It takes just 20 minutes of moderate intensity exercise to gain mood-boosting benefits that last up to 12 hours. These benefits range from improved self-esteem and confidence, to better sleep and vitality.
At work, feeling good helps us stay engaged and productive. We are more satisfied with our work, which is linked to greater feelings of security, support, respect and being valued. We’re also more tolerant and resilient, and have an extra buffer against stressful challenges that helps us bounce back from setbacks.
2. Improve Your Focus & Memory
Exercise has been labelled as “brain food”, improving our mental acuity and overall cognitive function. As we move, our blood, glucose and oxygen levels are kept at optimum levels while inflammation is reduced and growth factors are produced to assist with our brain health. This better enables us to concentrate, improves our memory consolidation, and promotes our learning.
At work, when we have the right mindset to focus, we get more done. A self-reported study showed that on the days that employees exercised, they experienced a 72% improvement in work completed and in their time management.
3. Boost Your Creativity
Exercise as simple as walking improved creativity in 81% to 100% of participants in a study, who were almost twice as likely to produce novel and high-quality thoughts compared to their counterparts who didn’t exercise.
At work, creativity means fresh thinking and ideas, improved problem-solving, teamwork and collaboration. Creativity is highly valued and desired, with 60% of 1500 CEOs that were surveyed regarding creativity as the most important leadership quality in a new employee, with integrity coming in at 52%.
4. Get Social
Even solo exercise produces an increase in prosocial behaviour, including improving trust and cooperation. When completed in a group setting, exercise also helps to develop a social identity, a sense of belonging, and creates meaningful connections.
At work, this means greater collaboration and teamwork, trusted delegation, a greater propensity for sharing knowledge, meaningful relationships, greater job satisfaction – and generally better organisational efficiency, a goal of any high-performing company or individual.
5. Reduce Anxiety & Stress
Seven out of ten adults experience stress or anxiety daily, diminishing their focus, productivity and ability to make rational decisions. Biologically, the fight or flight response kicks in – and with it stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol circulate through the body. Caring for our physical health through exercise reduces stress hormone levels, relaxes our muscles, and stimulates the production of endorphins that boost our mood and manage our pain.
At work, this helps improve our performance while reducing productive hours lost due to absenteeism and presenteeism. Exercise also lowers the risk of experiencing the serious physical effects of chronic stress including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, fatigue, trouble sleeping and more.
6. Reduce Your Risk Of Major Depression
Replacing 15 minutes of sitting with 15 minutes of running, or one hour of sitting with one hour of walking reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. Exercise as a treatment for clinical depression has been extensively studied and is well established as having significant, long-lasting effects by helping the brain make new connections and promoting nerve cell growth. Implementing exercise, however, may be easier said than done, with physical activity patterns of people with depression or anxiety characterised by large amounts of sedentary time, and very little fulfilment of any physical activity guidelines.
At work, this is where encouraging exercise participation by incorporating it into the workday as part of an employee program can improve not only health outcomes, but reduce absenteeism while improving productivity and focus.
7. Improve Your Energy
It may seem counterintuitive when you feel drained after a long day at work, but exercise does improve your energy levels. Exercise works at both the cellular level to help the body create energy, as well as improving the circulation of oxygen and nutrients to the cells and releasing of hormones during exercise.
At work, alongside helping you stay focused on your tasks for longer, research suggests those with good levels of energy are more likely to voluntarily stay at their job, and less likely to be let go. Interestingly, the driving force for letting a staff member go is not poor performance or not being a good fit in the workplace, but because their energy levels were perceived to ‘dampen’ the work atmosphere.
8. Prevent Alzheimer’s & Dementia
Dementia is a currently incurable condition characterised by loss of memory, language and other brain function. The Hong Kong Mental Health Review Report (2017) estimates that 10% of our elderly population suffers from dementia, a number that’s on the rise. Exercising three or more times per week has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia by up to 18%, as well as slow the progress of the condition in those already suffering.
At work, participating in your company’s employee wellbeing program, or getting your own exercise program if this is unavailable, can help minimise your risk of dementia. It will also maximise your cognitive abilities so you perform at your best.
9. A Better Night’s Sleep
Sleep is critical for allowing the body and mind to recharge. It lets our muscles relax, while our mind processes our daily learnings, filing them for future recall. During our awake hours, we naturally incur neurological damage, and during sleep our body can clear this debris and repair the damage most effectively. Research shows that moderate aerobic exercise improves the sleep quality of adults.
At work, coming in well rested means our productivity, attitude and energy remain optimal, maximising our performance.
What’s Holding You Back From Leveraging Exercise To Boost Your Work Performance?
While it’s easy to list the various benefits of physical health on our mental wellbeing, putting it into practice and starting a sustainable, work-friendly exercise routine can be a challenge. Some don’t know where to start and simply need a little guidance to help get the ball rolling. Others fall into the group of 80% of workers in Hong Kong that suffer at least one musculoskeletal problem like neck or low back pain.
If you have current pain or a previous injury holding you back, our physiotherapists are here to help. We create tailored wellbeing programs for your workplace, considering everything from the quality and safety of the physical environment to how you feel. We also create personal programs that dive deeper into your personal health and wellbeing goals.
Book your appointment online or call us on +852 2801.4801