Exercise to improve work performance

May 5, 2020 | Exercise

exercise to improve work performance

Working from home is difficult.  You might find that you are working harder than usual, with few breaks and times of intense work periods. Alternatively, you might find it difficult to motivate yourself given the natural distractions of your home environment, which may include children, spouses, housemates etc.  You may alternate between intense work activity and lack of motivation. So how can you make the most of working from home?

Create a routine

A routine is a natural way to set boundaries for yourself regarding work times. For example, get ready for work as you would when going to the office. Have your shower and change and set a start time each day.  Consider starting work early, even before breakfast so you achieve something first off.  Then when you get hungry, stop for breakfast. That way you are on a roll and its easier to start again after breakfast. Try to take morning, lunch and afternoon breaks at set times each day. This will give you times to aim for and motivate you to be productive during work hours.

Remove distractions

Log out of social media accounts to prevent notifications and temptations to divert your attention. 

Use technology

Company chat and video conferencing can help you stay in touch with your work colleagues and keep you motivated.

Exercise to improve work performance

There is a vast amount of research pointing to exercise to improve work performance.  Let’s review this research and see what we can put into practice to boost work performance, specifically when working from home.

Mood and motivation

A study of 201 white-collar workers concluded that both motivation and mood improved on days when exercise conducted. The improved performance was almost exclusively linked to changes in mood.


The study above indicated that performance improved with improved mood and motivation. It also indicated that 6 out of 10 workers said their time management and ability to meet deadlines improved on days when they exercised.

This study of more than 250 Spanish university employees across 6 different campuses, confirms that exercise improves productivity.


A study conducted by Stanford University concluded that walking improves creativity. They performed numerous tests, seated, treadmill walking and outdoor walking. On average, walking compared to seated, improved creativity by 60%. The outdoor walking test (of which there was only one) showed the greatest creativity improvement, reaching 80%. Interestingly, when participants sat down, after walking the results diminished.

More Energy

The University of Georgia conducted a study of chronically sleep-deprived students (less than 6.5 hours per night) to see if exercise or caffeine was more effective.  Participants undertook verbal and computer-based tests to determine cognition skills. The results indicated that exercise (specifically walking up and down stairs for 10 minutes at a low-intensity) improved mid-afternoon slump and provided participants more energy than 50 milligrams of caffeine.

Improves your immunity

According to Medline exercise helps flush out bacteria from your lungs and airways, which may reduce your chance of catching a cold, flu, or other illness.

Putting the research into practice

We have seen that exercise can improve your work performance in a number of ways including:

  • Motivation
  • Productivity
  • Creativity
  • Energy
  • Immunity

Beginning of the Day

Starting the day with 20-30 minutes of your favourite exercise helps motivate and kick start your day. Check out my article on YouTube exercises for everything from yoga to pilates to cardio and kickboxing, and everything in-between.

During the Day

I also recommend short bursts of exercise throughout the day to boost creativity, cognition and motivation, as confirmed by the research above.

The advantage of working from home is that you can exercise during the day without fear of embarrassment from fellow work colleagues!

I’m sure you have heard the saying: “sitting is the new smoking”. Studies have shown that elongated sitting periods are detrimental to your health. This study conducted by the University of Texas indicates that sitting for longer than 13 hours can make you “resistant” to the positive effects of exercise.  Clearly, this is an extreme example. I can’t imagine you will be sitting for 13 hours a day. However, it does demonstrate that prolonged sitting is detrimental.  Read more about regular activity throughout the day versus singular activity in this article

An activity tracker can keep you in check by reminding you when you have been sitting for more than an hour.

Personal Example

As the studies indicate, exercise can provide creativity, motivation and problem-solving. I can attest to this.  When my activity tracker tells me that I have been sitting for too long, I simply run up and down a set of stairs next to our apartment block. It doesn’t take very long. I estimate between five and seven minutes to walk to the stairs and run up and down 40 stairs 4-5 times. Most times when I return to my computer, I have a new way of looking at my work or I have a new idea or solution to a problem.

Not everyone has a set stairs handy to their home office.  However, jumping jacks, running on the spot, high knees, one of my 5-10 minute YouTube videos are also a great way to get you moving.


Beware, lunch can be a trap. It is easy to start cooking and not get back to work. If possible, try to have a prepared meal that you can easily heat up or prepare quickly. Try to take advantage of the time to exercise rather than cook.

A post-lunch walk break is highly recommended.  It is great for weight control and avoiding the afternoon slump as well as inspiration for work. This study confirms that walking after a meal can assist with reduction of blood glucose levels which may assist in weight control.

I sometimes take advantage of the post-lunch walk to play a podcast that is relevant to the project I am working on which can also provide motivation and inspiration for new ideas.


As we have seen, the research indicates we can exercise to improve work performance. I recommend starting the day with an exercise routine of your choice and having regular short bouts of exercise throughout the day, including one post-lunch. As we have seen from the research, this can provide motivation and creativity as well as assist in blood glucose management.  Activity trackers can assist to keep you in check and remind you when you have been sitting for too long.

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