In August of this year I had the opportunity to submit an article to the Vancouver Business Journal entitled “Healthcare changes increase appeal of company wellness.” The article went on to extoll the benefits of how fitness programs endorsed and underwritten in many companies had significant improvements in employee productivity, decreased absenteeism and improved morale.
This kind of information naturally prompts the question of “how” and “why” employee wellness (and more specifically, exercise and diet) can influence overall work performance and productivity. There is no simple one-word answer, as the inner workings of body physiology can be complex. While it would be a reach to say that exercise and fitness serve as the panacea that suddenly will have you wanting to work in the office all day on Sunday even when you don’t have to, there is no scientific controversy to the role fitness can play regarding “attitude adjustment” in lieu of defaulting to a person’s favorite watering hole after work is done for the day.
Stress management and the brain
Let’s face it – work can be stressful. For the majority of people that take pride in their work and its quality, pressure to perform can be both internal (self-administered) and external (think employers and managers with deadlines). A “calm” brain is what we all want to have and fitness plays a mighty role. Transmission of signals throughout the brain occurs through a chemical called serotonin. Diet, exercise and sunlight all play in a role in the body’s ability to produce serotonin. While it would be easy to laugh at the “two out of three ain’t bad” cliché (okay, for now we’ll give sunlight a mulligan), that lunchtime walk, workout and spinach salad play a key role in the creation of this brain chemical that minimizes if not alleviates depression, elevates mood and increases the quality of sleep. Exercise qualifies as a form of motor activity, and the more motor activity a person experiences with emphasis on the aerobic aspect (walking, swimming, biking, running) the greater production there is of this natural “opiate” that keeps us calm, relaxed and handling the challenges of daily pressures more effectively. The optimal amount of exercise needed to enhance serotonin synthesis in the brain is three hours weekly, or 30 minutes most days of the week.
“Feeling” good is not an accident
You’re suffering from writers block, ideas for a deadline, or building a more cohesive sales team. The only thing you can think of to handle this stress is to displace it in the form of exercise. You ran or walked your mile, lifted weights at the gym, or went for a 30 minute walk or workout. Once you return to your workplace, ideas begin to take shape, the impossible now seems very possible and problem solving just became a little easier. When I talk with our clients about the effect fitness has on their overall mood, they often relay that fitness makes them “feel better.” Little do most of them know that the “feeling” part of their mood is a scientific event. Regular activity can increase the availability of a phenomenal “messenger molecule” in the human body called nitric oxide, which helps keeps blood vessels dilated – including those that feed the brain. It has been demonstrated that regular exercise can increase the prevalence of this molecule in blood vessel walls and, as a result, increase blood flow throughout the body. When we get more blood flowing to the brain, we are also the beneficiaries of what comes with it – oxygen. When the brain has improved oxygen supply, it can only improve a person’s clarity of thought. The one-two punch provided by exercise for increased amounts of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and nitric oxide can and will play a role in your performance in the work-place.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Mr. Frank Nichols, president and CEO of Silicon Forest Electronics, who has made a corporate fitness and wellness program available to his employees. While he was quick to point out that his employees have reaped a number of the aforementioned physical benefits, he also was quick to mention aspects of their involvement in corporate wellness that can’t be measured.
Nichols said, “I notice camaraderie between those that workout together, and in many instances [there’s] a healthy competition. The company wellness program has improved teamwork, which is something I can’t put a price on.”
The next time you’re looking to open up the floodgates of clearer thought or improved performance at work, think about the “good chemicals” a fitness-based brain can have on improved job performance and, very simply, a better day.
Bill Victor, M.S., ISSA Elite Trainer, is the president of Victor Fitness and Sports Performance Training (www.victor-fitness.com), a multifaceted fitness training and community-centered business. Victor Fitness can be reached by calling 360.750.0815 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.