Is there an intrinsic link between physical exercise and work performance? One of the biggest stories to emerge from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics wasn’t about an athlete’s performance at all, it was quite the opposite. Simone Biles – one of the world’s greatest athletes – made headlines when she retired in the middle of team competition, citing the need to put her own sanity first.
âWe live in a world where we are always active. Whether it’s pressure at work – having to do more with less, balancing work and home, or even increasing digital connectivity. “
As someone who regularly undertakes a large volume of physical activity, can we still claim a correlation between movement and our ability to do work?
Find a performance connection
Where I work, we launched the Accolade Wines Leadership Podcast Realize your potential to share ideas and learnings with our staff and, more recently, a wide range of people around the world. For Series 3, we specifically invited distinguished guests from the elite sports world. Everyone was asked about the importance of physical exercise and how it relates to mental health. This knowledge reinforced the company’s belief in the important link between the acquisition of resilience and the pursuit of physical activity.
We live in a world where we are always active. Whether it’s pressure at work – being asked to do more with less, balancing work and home, or even increasing digital connectivity. Resilience helps us cope with this and the podcast guests, almost unanimously, felt that if physical exercise were embraced, it would help improve the way we live and work.
Good leaders recognize that our personal life is closely linked to our professional life. We need to make sure we are happy and healthy if we are to get to work every day and do our best.
Make health and fitness count
Exercise is a basic strategy to achieve this. It releases endorphins and serotonin, which improve your mood and pump blood to your brain. Simply put, exercise helps you think more clearly. It also increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for memory. Companies that encourage their employees to incorporate some form of exercise into daily life and work on their mental health, by promoting practices like meditation, will reap the rewards of a more productive workforce.
Physical activity also has a positive impact on our mental health. People who have greater mental resilience can persevere for longer. The stresses associated with a busy workplace are inevitable, but it’s our ability to stick with something in the face of setbacks that is the true indication of success. Indeed, academic and psychologist Angela Duckworth has discovered that a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal, or as she coined it, courage, is the hallmark of top performing people in almost any career. areas.
Podcast guest Tanner Gardner, COO and Senior Associate Athletic Director at Rice University also believes in the value of courage. Students at his university have top athletic performance, and balancing that with a heavy study load teaches them the value of persistence before entering the workforce. Ready to accept failure, students learn that mustering the courage to continue is the key to triumph. A key attribute that makes Rice University graduates so attractive to employers.
In our workplace, we take a holistic approach to actively create a high performance environment that builds resilience. Exercise is a big part of this and recently we launched an internal âAccolade on the Moveâ campaign that challenged our employees around the world to register 150 minutes of exercise per week. Each competed in a team, made up of employees from different countries and departments, because despite their geographic distance, they worked together on a common goal.
Identify the performance link
So what about the link between our physical exercise and work performance? Well, a 2013 report found that our mental agility can be directly linked to exercise. Physical activity has been shown to improve focus, help memory, speed up learning, and reduce stress. All the factors that contribute to our ability to present ourselves and perform at work. The article also points out that while many of us are busy and find it difficult to prioritize physical activity – in the long run – it saves us time by making sure we’re more productive overall. Physical movement was also correlated with improvements in mood. I’m sure you’ll enjoy something too if, like me, your day involves engaging with multiple stakeholders.
It’s important to make the habit of physical activity part of our daily life, but it doesn’t always have to be a gym or a run if it’s something you don’t enjoy. As work cultures change, we find ourselves online at unsociable times to host international meetings or full schedules. Finding the time to prioritize a daily exercise habit allows us to shift our mindset to ensure that we view daily exertion as a precursor to productivity. Just as we prioritize a big project or a deadline, we need to devote time to our physical health as it is vital for better overall performance. Companies must also support this change.
Sport has always been a big part of my life, but running is something that I discovered later in life. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a natural, but consistency, hard work, and persistence has made this something that improves my outlook. For me, nothing can beat the mental clarity that a run before work can bring, and it’s also the perfect way to disconnect at the end of the day.
Like most things in life, balance is important, but choosing to exercise has real physiological benefits for mental clarity and teaches us persistence. I’ve learned over time that not all races will be my best, but getting through the toughest races builds fitness and resilience, not just for the next race, but for work and life. .
All of these benefits contribute to why physical and mental health should come first, thanks to their intrinsic connection to our ability to perform at work.
Anjanette Murfet is Director of Human Resources and Communication at Accolade Wines. She is a passionate believer in the intrinsic link between exercise and mental health and also believes that at the corporate level, better mental health must start at the top.
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