Many Americans are consistently working through their lunch break, which aside from the health risks isn’t great for your productivity either. Particularly if you sit all day at your job, it’s important to at least get up and stretch your legs. And if you want to have more energy and get more accomplished, exercising on your lunch break is even better. Numerous studies have shown that working out in the middle of your workday is not only beneficial to your health, it’s beneficial to your career and your employer.
The many cognitive benefits of regular exercise include improved concentration, sharper memory, quicker learning, prolonged mental stamina, enhanced creativity, and stress reduction. Health experts are divided on the peak time of day for working out, but body temperature tends to rise between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., suggesting a midday workout can mean greater benefits.
Further research suggests exercising while at work means a boost in productivity. One study found workers who spent 30 to 60 minutes at lunch exercising saw an average performance boost of 15%. A majority said their time management skills, mental performance, and ability to meet deadlines improved on days when they exercised. The employees who worked out were also less likely to suffer from post-lunch fatigue.
There are long-term benefits, too. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine showed that incorporating just 2.5 hours of exercise per week into the workday led to significantly fewer absences, in addition to increases in self-reported productivity. Another study, out of Leeds Metropolitan University, even found improvements in attitude and job satisfaction when employees took a break to work out.
Smart companies are making it a priority to encourage their employees to exercise on the job, sometimes with on-site facilities and classes. Pepsi, HBO, and Google, for example, have their own fitness centers for employees to use, and Google offers a broad range of exercise classes at all times of day. And if you don’t have a lot of time to get away from your desk, there are definite benefits to having facilities right at the office.
“Depending on how quickly you refuel after you’re done, the boost can last for two to three hours,” Dr. Darin Padua, director of the Sport Medicine Research Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Bloomberg.
In an op-ed titled “Why It’s Time We Paid Employees to Exercise at Work,” Hootsuite’s Ryan Holmes makes the argument that while on-site fitness rooms are great, culture is the more important issue. Holmes says even new startups with tight budgets can help their employees prioritize fitness. Bringing pull-up bars and yoga balls to the office or making room for bikes in the entryway might seem odd to old-school managers, but it means a lot to employees. Most importantly, management should make it clear that everyone is encouraged to block off an hour per day to exercise, provided it doesn’t conflicts with any meetings.
If you’re not lucky enough to work in an environment this progressive, you likely still have a lunch hour, or at least a 30-minute break. Just because your employer isn’t telling you to go work out doesn’t mean you can’t take the initiative. Even getting outside for a walk around the block before you have lunch can help you recharge and ease stress. For a more strenuous workout, try eating lunch at your desk when you get back. Then you can build in more time to shower if needed. Don’t buy into any feelings of embarrassment when you return to the office rosy-cheeked with your gym bag over your shoulder. You’ll feel better, work better, and impress your boss with your new-found stamina.