Being fit keeps you mentally ready for work

Being fit keeps you mentally ready for work

We keep hearing about how obesity can be a dangerous risk to your physical health, but according to a study from Israel in the Journal of Applied Psychology, avoiding exercise can also take a toll on your mental health, leading to depression and greater burnout rates at work.

The researchers found that employees who found the time to engage in physical activity were less likely to experience a deterioration of their mental health, including symptoms of burnout and depression. The best benefits were achieved among those exercising for four hours per week – they were approximately half as likely to experience deterioration in their mental state as those who did no physical activity.

The scientists state that employers will benefit from encouraging the physical fitness of their employees. If the fight against overweight and obesity isn’t enough of an incentive, inspiring workers to be physically active lessens high heath costs, reduces absenteeism, and increases productivity in the workplace.

The study showed that exercise and being physically fit help to preventing a downward spiral that affects work performance and the potentially the bottom line of companies.

Depression is a clinical mood disorder, and burnout is defined by physical, cognitive, and emotional exhaustion. Both contribute to a possible “spiral of loss” where the loss of one resource, such as a job, could have a domino effect and lead to the loss of other resources such as one’s home, marriage, or sense of self-worth.

The study was originally designed to examine the relationship between depression and burnout by assessing the personal, occupational, and psychological states of 1,632 healthy workers in both the private and public sectors. Participants completed questionnaires when they came to medical clinics for routine check-ups and had three follow-up appointments over a period of nine years.

The results indicate that an increase in depression predicts an increase in job burnout over time, and vice versa. But for the first time, the researchers also considered the participants’ levels of physical activity, defined as any activity that increases heart rate and makes you sweat. The participants were divided into four groups: one that did not engage in physical activity; a second that did 75 to 150 minutes of physical activity a week; a third that did 150 to 240 minutes a week; and a fourth that did more than 240 minutes a week.

Depression and burnout rates were clearly the highest among the group that did not participate in physical activity. The more physical activity that participants engaged in, the less likely they were to experience elevated depression and burnout levels during the next three years. The optimal amount of physical activity was a minimum of 150 minutes per week, where its benefits really started to take effect.

In those who engaged in 240 minutes of physical activity or more, the impact of burnout and depression was almost nonexistent. But even 150 minutes a week will have a positive impact.

Exercise and being fit helps people to deal with their workday, improving self-efficacy and self-esteem, and preventing the spiral of loss.

Most stress management programs focus on reducing stressful situations such as workload and the environment. However, as successful as these might be, life still throws us some stressful situations to deal with.

Being fit and exercising regularly is the best way to be prepared as the Scouts would say.

You can’t, and don’t want to, remove all stress from your life (only dead people have no stress), but being fit is your best defence against the negative effects of stress.

Smart employers can benefit by investing in the fitness of their staff. It doesn’t need to be a major facility or cost the earth, educating staff about how to stay fit when time is short and rewarding staff who keep fit are simple strategies any company can do.

If your company needs some motivation, information or strategies to improve the fitness and performance of staff, give me a call or drop me an email. Let’s get you and your company performing at the top of your game.

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David Beard
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