Emerging research suggests that exercise is just as important for your mind as it is for your body. Numerous studies find that different types of exercise affect the brain in an equally varied number of ways. Both promote cognitive function and preserving brain health.  Let’s discuss the science behind this research and dive into a few examples that have positive implications for productivity.

exercise can make you more productive

What Science Says…

Studies show exercise can increase the presence of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) in the brain. BDNF is a critical protein for the brain’s ability to heal, adapt, learn, and form memories. Until a study led by cell biologist Bruce Spiegelman, researchers remained uncertain about how exercise actually induces elevated levels of BDNF. Spiegelman and his team discovered that irisin, a hormone secreted by muscle cells after endurance exercise, is essentially a “chemical messenger” that promotes expression of BDNF, as well as genes linked to learning skills and memory formation. The discovery of irisin has enabled the scientific community to research the effect of exercise on cognitive function with more precision than ever.

A Georgia Institute of Technology study found that intense resistance training for periods as short as 20 minutes can boost episodic memory (memory of specific past events) by 10%. A study by David Jacobs linked aerobic fitness during one’s 20’s and increased memory performance later on in life. Two studies by the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois (one on children and one on adults age 60+) measured increased white matter integrity in those with higher levels of aerobic fitness. White matter has been deemed a “superhighway” connecting the brain’s regions; more compact white matter is associated with increased attention and faster cognitive function.

Exercise for Your Mind

While we still have years worth of research before we fully understand how exercise impacts the brain, it is clear that many forms of voluntary physical activity enhance mental performance and protect against neurological disease. The latter is certainly an important trend for the 21st-century American worker. We see this as the average retirement age has slowly but steadily increased for the last two decades.

On a related note, exercising for 150 minutes per week improves sleep quality up to 65%. This is especially significant when considering that poor sleep quality may lead to long-term loss of grey matter. This important substance makes up brain regions responsible for muscle control, sensory perception, memory, and decision making. Furthermore, scientists attribute the lack of proper sleep with mental fatigue in the workplace than one’s actual workload. By boosting cognitive function and reducing mental fatigue, exercise can effectively lighten your workload without actually reducing your output!

We here at PerkSpot know that starting a new exercise routine can be a challenge. That’s why we offer PerkSpot Health and Wellness. Your employees save big on local gym memberships and nutrition programs, and your business benefits from healthier, happier workers!

invest in happiness

It is a corporate truism that happiness begets productivity. There is a slew of data to support this idea, such as the extensive work of Teresa Amabile or this Gallup poll by James Harter. More recently, perks have emerged as the choice tactic for companies seeking to boost employee happiness. So much so that companies, from entrepreneurial startups to established enterprises, hire perk managers to engineer creative perk programs.

We here at PerkSpot know that not all perks are created equal.

We are also aware that not every business can afford a $10,000 per employee desk allowance or a month-long office adventure to Thailand. We’ve dug deeper into the wealth of research on the happiness-productivity model and hope that our findings will suggest some cost-effective ways to invest in workplace happiness that will ensure your highest ROI. A number of recent studies point out that broader psychological factors have the strongest implications for increased workplace productivity. Professor John Zelenski demonstrated that “positive affect” is more strongly tied to high productivity than either “job satisfaction” or “quality of work life.”. In another study, Thomas Wright found that increased job satisfaction yields increased productivity only when employees already have a high level of psychological well-being (PWB). Employees who score low on “life satisfaction” stay home an average of 15 more days a year, states Gallup Healthways. Another Gallup study showed that retail stores scoring high on employee life satisfaction generated $32 million more in earnings than less happy competitors. The data suggests managers should focus on perks that promote more general psychological factors like life satisfaction and psychological well-being. An office ping-pong table may seem sure to increase employee happiness. However, MetLife’s Benefits Trends Study suggests that offering a financial education program may be more effective. According to the study, 54% of employees worry about their financial security; while 51% of employers strongly agree employees are less productive when they worry about personal financial problems. 57% of employers agree that offering financial education to employees has a positive impact on productivity.

Don’t underestimate the benefit of perks that cost you nothing.

A recent study by Nicholas Bloom and John Roberts focused on China’s largest travel agency. They found employees permitted to work from home were 13% more productive and 50% less likely to leave their jobs. Considering the cost of replacing an employee can range from 90% to 200% of their annual salary, this is significant. In fact, FastCo.Design says you may see similar upticks in productivity from changing your office environment. They suggest converting a portion of your office into spaces akin to employees’ homes (think sofas, café tables, etc.). Increased time with family and friends can strongly reinforce the high levels of psychological well-being that promote job satisfaction. It’s no surprise, then, that the Society of Human Resource Management reports that 30% of employers offer discounted tickets to movies, theme parks, museums, and more in order to encourage more family outings. We hope that our research sheds some light on the burgeoning world of workplace perks. Perks geared toward enhancing employees’ lives outside the office can result in the largest jump in job satisfaction and productivity. The above examples suggest some cost-effective starting points for anybody looking to build a perks program into their office culture. Want more insights like these? Subscribe using the form to the right!