Physical Activity May Boost Work Performance

Workers Who Exercise Regularly Are More Productive, Study Shows

From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 21, 2004 -- Memo to employers: People who work out are better workers, according to a new study. Is it time to add health club memberships to the company benefits plan?

The study shows that employees who get plenty of physical activity perform better at work -- in terms of quality and quantity of work. That can help the bottom line in more ways than one.

It's well known that physical inactivity and obesity can lead to health problems and early death. But how do these health risk factors affect a person's work life and productivity? While obesity is known to increase absenteeism, do regular physical activity and exercise help?

In this study, researchers surveyed 683 workers in various occupations -- asking a number of questions regarding numbers of workdays lost, the quality and quantity of work, interpersonal relationships with co-workers, and how they rated their overall performance and their perceived level of exertion while at work.

They found "significant associations" between these areas and lifestyle factors, reports lead researcher Nicolaas P. Pronk, PhD, with the Center for Health Promotion at HealthPartners in Minneapolis.

  • Moderate physical activity was related to both quality of work performed and overall job performance.
  • Workers who engaged in moderate and vigorous physical activity were more likely to rate job performance higher.
  • Cardiorespiratory fitness -- from strength training and aerobic workouts -- made workers more efficient in completing a greater quantity of work.
  • Obese workers had more difficulty getting along with co-workers; they also had more absentee days.

These problems with co-workers, as well as social stigma, could translate into less motivation to spend time at work, he explains.

Physically fit workers are likely physically stronger, with greater endurance -- and are less likely to feel fatigue, writes Pronk. Also, those who were less fit and obese had significantly more difficulty in interpersonal relationships.

Since the surveys were completed by the workers themselves, the findings could be biased, he writes. "It could be that individuals self-report higher levels of performance related to their work tasks."

Nevertheless, the study suggests that when employees modify their lifestyles -- getting more physical activity, losing weight -- work performance gets a boost, he concludes.

Pronk's study appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

SOURCE: Pronk, N. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, January 2004; vol 46: pp 19-24.

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