Workday workouts help you — and your company.
Almost every day when the pressure gets to be too much, I sprint out of my Seattle office and down the street to the gym on the corner. I hope nobody from work wanders by and sees me in my Spandex pants as I grimace and try to lift an 8-pound weight.
But even if they did, it’s worth it.
Researchers have found that getting in some gym time at work can be a magical reset button that decreases the stress-producing hormone cortisol and activates all the good parts of the brain that improve memory, concentration and mood. Basically, working out at work will help you do a better job and do it without wanting to hurl a stapler at someone in the next cubicle.
One study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management measured mood and performance of more than 200 office workers at three different companies to see how exercise during the day affected them.
The employees who worked out at work reported better mood and higher productivity on those days they exercised. Other studies have found a link between exercise and reduced absenteeism at work.
Lunchtime workouts can also help with problem-solving, which can make you a better employee, according to Ron Friedman, a New York-based social psychologist and author of “The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace.”
“If you think about the last time you had a really creative idea, I’m willing to bet you were not sitting behind your desk,” says Friedman.
He recommends taking your “thinking about work” outside the office. The gym is the perfect place to think through a tough issue. Even if there isn’t a gym nearby, a brisk walk or run can do the trick.
This is where a supportive workplace or supervisor comes in. It’s counterintuitive that temporarily abandoning your desk will result in getting more work done, but this is definitely the case, according to Friedman.
“One way to do this,” he says, “is to reframe taking that break as something that is helpful for the organization, not necessarily yourself.”
This has made a difference for anyone who feels a little guilty walking away during one of those busy times when it seems the office is imploding.
Employers may be starting to see the light as many new Seattle office buildings have gyms or at least showers for those who bike to work.
Membership at Seattle Fitness, in Pioneer Square, has increased recently, says owner Tija Petrovich. About two-thirds of all memberships are supported by local businesses that pay for partial or full memberships for their employees.
Petrovich bought the downtown gym in 1995 after working there for years. She’s watched workplace culture change over time and now finds the gym is much busier in late morning and early afternoon, when it fills up with workers.
But just having a gym at work isn’t enough. Employers need to be flexible with schedules, especially for those who work long hours where home life and work can blend into each other. And for those with children at home, the lunch break may be their only opportunity for themselves all day.
After more than 30 years in the fitness business, Petrovich has some advice. Try different times of day and find a gym that feels like a community. There needs to be something that connects you to the place to get you started.
She notices the workers rushing in and looking stressed, but when they walk out, “It’s this wonderful, exhausted nirvana on their faces,” she says. “It’s just so satisfying to see the difference.”