Yes, it’s that time of year again. A new year marks a fresh start, which is a perfect time to begin using behaviors that promote a healthy lifestyle. According to Google, the most popular New Year’s resolutions are about physical self-improvement – living – healthier 23%; losing weight 20%; exercising 7%.
Allow me to offer another reason for improving physical fitness to your resolution motivation. “Moving our bodies changes the way we think. People who have fitter bodies generally have keener minds.”
This fact is well-documented in a book by Anne Murphy Paul, The Extended Mind. I am a long-time proponent of physical fitness and have experienced the benefits of how a brisk walk out in nature can clear my mind and allow me to think more clearly, and boost creative problem-solving. However, it’s always a bonus to see the scientific proof that it’s a real thing!
Many people have a hard time implementing those New Year’s resolutions beyond the first few weeks in January because their goals are too big and overwhelming. The key to building sustainable habits is to start small. With that in mind, let me offer a few ideas.
- Taking breaks can help us reset and refocus. The key is to do something that feels DIFFERENT from work. So, if your work is in front of a computer, scrolling through Facebook, or checking the news online is not different. Those activities are using the same region of the brain as your work, so it’s not going to feel like a break. Take a MOVEMENT BREAK instead!
- Research has shown that moderate-intensity exercise, practiced for a moderate amount of time, improves our ability to think both during and immediately after the activity. This suggests that we will lose some of the benefits of physical activity by going to the gym AFTER work. Consider starting your day with some sort of workout and then incorporate physical breaks throughout the day.
- Get away from your desk at lunch, even if it’s a short 30-minute break. Walk to a lunch spot, sit somewhere different from your desk, and interact with other humans.
- Plan for short breaks between meetings so you can take the stairs to a different floor, or even better, get outside in nature for a quick walk.
- Recognize when you come to a natural stopping point in your work – finishing a task or coming to the end of your time block of work. Use that as a signal to get up and MOVE. If you are working remotely, it’s easy to use your breaks to crank out ten push-ups or sit-ups. Do some stretching or forward folds to get the blood rushing to your head and loosening up your back and neck.
- Many think of breaks as a time for resting the body to recharge for our next round of mental labor. Again, many research studies have found that exerting the body helps ready our brains for the kind of knowledge work many of us do today. An energetic walk around the block and running the stairs is what can clear our minds because we are focused on something different from our work — perhaps the burning in our legs or lungs. Our subconscious is often still hard at work to solve a problem at hand, but the physical exercise allows our conscious mind to take a break and return refreshed!
Make 2022 the year you start in small ways to integrate movement and physical fitness into your work productivity routine.
It’s the small behaviors we do consistently – day in, day out – that shape our lives.
Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or share your fitness success stories with her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.