If you work and have kids, you may find it hard to squeeze in time to exercise. But a new study from Sweden makes the case (one you might want to bring to your boss) for carving some time out of your 9 to 5 to work out.
The study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that taking time out of the work week to exercise led to increased productivity, despite the lost hours at work. Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm assigned one group of employees at a public dental health organization to a mandatory exercise program. They had to take 2 ½ hours out of their regular 40-hour work week to exercise. Another group received the same reduction in work hours, but were not required to exercise during that time. A third group worked regular hours.
Employees assigned to the exercise program rated several measures of productivity significantly higher than employees in the other groups. They felt more productive while on the job and felt their work was of better quality. Plus they had a reduced rate of work absences due to illness. In contrast, those in the control group had decreases in self-rated productivity during the study.
Most managers believe if you cut back on your hours, you’ll be less productive.
“Our results paint another picture, suggesting that you can't automatically assume that time off work equals productivity loss,” said the study’s lead author, Ulrica von Thiele Schwarz, Ph.D.
Here’s how exercising helps:
Exercise fortifies you. Previous studies have shown that exercise may increase your resistance to stress and generally improve your mental wellbeing, von Thiele Schwarz said. Regular exercise can reduce depression and fatigue, making you feel more energetic and motivated.
Exercise prevents illness. Regular exercise has been shown to bolster your immune system, reducing sick days or having to work while you’re not feeling great, which we all know can make us unproductive.
Allowing employees to take time out of work to exercise may also reduce the stress of juggling work and home activities, and in turn decrease absences and lateness, as well as increase their commitment to their company.
Exercise boosts memory. Studies have shown that regular moderate exercise can help enhance your cognitive skills like memory and mental processing, making you smarter while you work.
While you may not feel comfortable asking your boss for time off to exercise, this study may convince you that skipping your workouts because you’re working late may make you less productive, not more. If you do want to broach the subject with your boss, ask if you can come in one hour late twice a week (or leave an hour early) to exercise. But make sure you can justify the time off with higher quality work.
Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She blogs about the Affordable Care Act for the WellBeeFile. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.