Under pressure at work? Though exercise generally does improve productivity, long workouts might not do much if you’re dealing with extreme stress, finds a new study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Researchers took reports of 2,823 workers in Minnesota to see how their perceived stress and other independent factors affected work performance. Stressed workers had about an 11 percent productivity loss at work whether or not they exercised, meaning the stress was either keeping them home or they didn’t think they completed enough work while on the job.
So what’s the deal? Should you work out at lunch during a stressful day or not? “Generally speaking, the more active employees were, the more productive they were,” says Jeff VanWormer, Ph.D., study author and project scientist at the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin. (So, yes.)
VanWormer says highly stressed workers, though, may use exercise as a coping mechanism for a chaotic workweek, leading to productivity loss. It’s not that people are procrastinating by working out, it’s just that even a good sweat can’t counteract the mounting pressure of deadlines and to-do lists.
So what to do if you’re a high-achieving, high-strung worker? Make sure you’re picking the right activity to clear your mind, says Steve Edwards, Ph.D., and sports psychologist at Oklahoma State University. To help you de-stress on frenetic days, do workouts you enjoy—a particular bike route or a game of hoops with friends—instead of slogging through a routine day in the gym.