Fit for Work, Fit for Business

In a recent Reuters article ( October 3, 2011), Dr. Jack Groppel, co-founder of the Human Performance Institute was quoted about the importance of physical fitness to performance in the workplace. Groppel stated "Forty years ago athletes were told if you drink water it's a sign of weakness. We are still living in an old-think culture in business." You may recognize "old-think" culture as one where sitting for prolonged periods at your desk or in "marathon" meetings is a daily occurrence, where taking breaks is considered not working hard enough, and putting in a 10-12 hour day and working through lunch is just part of the job. However, this work culture often leaves you fatigued and can compromise your performance at work. As Groppel goes on to say "We're not active, we're not moving and we need to change this paradigm."

Being sedentary is not good for your health, but spending most of the day sitting down at work while trying to perform mentally and making good decisions is another thing. Sitting impairs blood circulation, particularly to the muscles, and can often leave you feeling fatigued – not good when you are trying to make tough decisions. Problem-solving, logical thinking and other cognitive processes require energy and taking a break may help. Getting up after a prolonged period of sitting can increase cerebral blood flow and deliver more oxygen to the brain. "If there's more oxygen getting to the brain, you solve problems more readily," Groppel said. "We understand it intellectually but we do nothing about it behaviorally." Groppel suggests taking regular breaks, even just getting up from your desk every 20 minutes, can not only help improve your health, but your performance too.

Groppel acknowledges that it will be difficult to change the culture within an organization, but it should start at the top. "The boss has to role-model this," he said. By doing so, the story around the role of physical activity in the workplace will begin to change. "The story in business is still, 'If we've got to solve a problem, we'll stay in this room until we solve it, when, in fact, we have our best ideas when we're in a mode of recovery. We have our best ideas in the shower," Groppel adds.

The solution is not simply to provide discounted fitness center memberships or walking groups, if you are not allowed to move freely during the workday. Working out at 6am may not keep you energized all day, and exercising vigorously for 30 minutes at the end of the day may not make up for a day of sitting. To help maintain your health, prevent fatigue and improve performance, avoid sitting for prolonged periods and take regular movement breaks. As Groppel says, "The human body is business relevant."