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Workout for Workplace Performance

Everyone knows that working out helps you look and feel better, but there are many reasons for those of us who aren’t ‘athletes’ to take performance training seriously.

When I first graduated university I struggled to buy into corporate culture. Growing up I was into sports and working out, so when I was assigned to a desk and sitting most of the day I found it challenging to continue my fitness habits. This was until I discovered Jim Loehr and Tony Schartz’s book The Power of Full Engagement. In this book they outline the concept of the ‘Corporate Athlete,’ drawing comparisons between work performance and physical performance.

“Managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance.”  

Here are three reasons everyone should take their fitness seriously:

Improved brain power

According to a 2007 study, regular physical exercise improves cognitive functions and lowers the risk for age-related cognitive decline. Learning performance was assessed directly after high impact anaerobic sprints, low impact aerobic running, or a period of rest in 27 healthy subjects in a randomized cross-over design. The study found that vocabulary learning was 20 percent faster after intense physical exercise as compared to the other two conditions.2

Reduced Stress

Science supports that exercise does in fact reduce stress. “These improvements in mood are proposed to be caused by exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain and by an influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and, thus, on the physiologic reactivity to stress.”3

“Not only does training increase energy levels, it also affects how we deal with the energy in our lives. Participants in interval training noticed lower blood pressure and stronger immune system.”1

More control over the rest of your life

Not all the benefits are completely scientific, for us to buy into these ideas we need to feel the difference as well. As entrepreneur Joshua Steimle says, “With the loss of physical health my productivity at work goes down. I become depressed. I lose motivation to do the things that makes my business successful. I’ve learned firsthand that excellence in one area of my life promotes excellence in all other areas of my life. Exercise is the easiest area of my life to control.”4

Making Space

Identify goals / bad habits

So let's look at ourselves currently. To make room for something new, we need to cut something old. Let’s say for example I’m going to cut TV (I love live sports). Regardless, I don’t need to catch every game on a nightly basis. And I’m sure everyone has a guilty pleasure or something they can swap with a more positive habit such as working out.

Zorro Circle

In his book The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor outlines the benefit of setting small manageable goals with a concept called the Zorro Circle. “The concept of the Zorro Circle is a powerful metaphor for how we can achieve our most ambitious goals in our jobs, our careers, and our personal lives...Yet when our stresses and workloads seem to mount faster than our ability to keep up, feelings of control are often the first things to go, especially when we try to tackle too much at once. If, however, we first concentrate our efforts on small manageable goals, we regain the feeling of control so crucial to performance.”5

So I set aside 15 minutes to exercise, which is enough time to start. Keep it in the Zorro Circle and build momentum. There are few options available: go for a walk or run, ride a bike or do a bodyweight workout.

The Seven Minute Workout: The easiest way to start!

The Seven Minute Workout: The easiest way to start!
Image courtesy of New York Times

Even a brief walk at low intensity can improve mood and increase energy. As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can have a positive effect.

“The best workout is the one you do.”

We need to make it easy on ourselves and lower the barrier to entry.

20 Second Rule

If you’re interested in ideas on how to take more control of your life, The Happiness Advantage is a must read. Another great concept that helped me was the 20 second rule. “Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.”5

For example, if you want to work out in the morning, lay out your clothes the night before. If your gym is too far, sign up at a closer one. If that’s not close enough, clear out your living room.

Building Momentum

Momentum is the key to making this habit actually stick. Now that we’ve lowered the barrier to entry and are doing some light workouts, keep doing them! One of the great things about working out is the endorphins released by your body. It feels great, and your body will eventually be craving them (to the point where you’ll need these workouts).

Workout for Workplace Performance
  1 Loehr, Jim, and Tony Schwartz. The power of full engagement: managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal. New York: Free Press, 2004. Print.
  2 Winter, Berward. "High impact running improves learning." Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 87.4 (2007): 597-609. Web.
  3 Guszkowska M.. Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood [in Polish] Psychiatr Pol. 2004;38:611–620.
  5 Achor, Shawn. The happiness advantage: the seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. London: Virgin, 2010. Print.

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