Research: Exercising at work boosts happiness, productivity

Employees who take breaks in between work to exercise are more productive, happier and suffer less stress than those who do not exercise at all, research has shown.

The results of a study that was carried out by researchers at the University of Bristol and published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management shows that people who enjoyed a workout before going to work or exercised during lunch breaks were better equipped to handle whatever the day threw at them.

It also found that people’s general mood improved on days of exercise but they became less calm on non-exercise days.

It is not common to hear of employees stretching in the office during work hours in Kenya, but a local company has embraced the concept and says it is working wonders.

As part of its daily work routine, OLX Kenya has incorporated physical stretches for all staff twice a day (morning and afternoon), which the company says helps give employees a boost of energy

OLX Kenya Country Manager Peter Ndiang’ui says what might seem like a small change in an organisation’s culture, like enforcing team lunch breaks or short time-offs during which staff get to exercise together, can have a huge impact on workplace creativity.

“We encourage the team to have fun and make the office comfortable. We have a Chief Fun Officer, who is also our PR and communications manager, to ensure employees are motivated, energised and inspired,” he added.

The research by Bristol University is the first of its kind to prove that exercise during work hours has mental and physical benefits.

Jo Coulson, a research associate at the University’s Department of Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, said: “Critically, workers performed significantly better on exercise days and across all three areas we measured, which were mental-interpersonal, output and time demands.”

But companies are not only looking to exercise to keep their workers productive. OLX, for instance, has incorporated other measures, including a ‘Live it wall’, where employees share how they are living the company’s values, especially by making use of its platform to sell and buy things.

It also has a separate physical fitness programme that provides zumba and yoga sessions in a studio next to its offices, and is open to all staff. The sessions are meant to get workers to do their most creative thinking as they interact outside the work environment.

While no research has been done to measure the effect of such initiatives on OLX Kenya workers, University of Bristol’s study group, which had 200 university staff and employees working for a pensions company and an IT firm, returned a positive response.

Each of the employees who participated in the study completed a questionnaire about their mood, workload and performance on days when they exercised. The data was compared to answers from the days participants opted not to exercise.

The key findings were that 72 per cent reported improvements in time management on exercise days compared to non-exercise days, while 79 per cent said mental and interpersonal performance were better on the days they exercised. Seventy-four per cent said exercising at work helped them manage their workload better.