What do you do when you hit an afternoon slump during your workday? Many of us turn to a second… or third… or fourth… cup of coffee to help boost productivity. But does it actually work?
High levels of caffeine can make it harder for us to engage in creative thinking and problem-solving because it boosts our fight-or-flight response. (Not to mention the fourth-cup-of-coffee jitters.)
What if there was a way to combat fatigue that improved productivity so you could finish your workday strong?
How Does Exercise Help Productivity?
Taking a few minutes during your workday to stretch and do light aerobic exercises can help you feel more mentally and physically alert.
Even 15 minutes at the end of your lunch break or at 3 p.m. when the sunlight streaming into your office window makes you want to curl up for a nap can make a huge difference.
So, how does exercise help with productivity?
You probably already know that exercise releases endorphins that help trigger feelings of calmness and reduces cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone.
On the surface level, we may think that we work better under pressure, but in addition to the negative effects on our bodies, stress makes it harder for us to focus and think rationally.
If you are working on a tough problem, you’ll come up with your best ideas in a more relaxed state. And exercise can help you get there.
67% of workers reported improved mood and performance on days they exercised at work versus days they didn’t, according to a study by the International Journal of Workplace Health Management.
Other benefits of incorporating exercise into your daily work routine include reduced neck and back pain, increased cardiovascular health, and weight loss.
Why These Exercises?
The best type of exercises to improve productivity are mobility exercises and low-impact aerobic activities, such as yoga, walking, and dancing.
In a study of 36 young adults, the biggest improvements in energy occurred in the group of test subjects that regularly participated in low-intensity exercises rather than moderate or high-intensity.
In addition, high-intensity cardio produces adrenaline, which can negatively affect creativity and problem-solving (much like that fourth cup of coffee). So while running and cycling are great for weight loss and overall health, they are not the best exercises to try during your workday.
Other factors to consider when choosing exercises for your work break are space and equipment. You probably don’t have weights or fancy equipment readily available in your coworking space, and you also want to be considerate of those working around you.
You may want to bring a yoga mat for a few mobility exercises, but most can be completed with just your body.
Here are 10 of our favorite midday break exercises you can do to rejuvenate your productivity.
Walking to clear your head may seem cliche, but it really works.
A Stanford study showed that individuals scored higher on creative thinking tests both while walking and while seated immediately after walking. Walking outside produced the best results, but even a lap around your coworking space can help get the creative juices flowing.
Yoga requires great focus and concentration, which can then be carried into the rest of your workday. It also improves mobility and can prevent aches and pains from sitting at a computer all day, including headaches, carpal tunnel, and neck strain.
Flowing through a few vinyasas is a great way to get moving during a work break. Start in a high plank before pushing back into downward dog. Then bring your body weight forward into a low plank or chaturanga. Flow into upward dog before pushing back into downward dog once again.
You can then move to standing and take a few deep breaths with your core engaged and your feet rooted.
3. Seated Leg Lifts
You don’t even need to take a break from work to complete this simple exercise.
While seated in your favorite office chair, scoot to the edge of your seat. Keep your chest upright, extend your arms in front of you, and keep your legs bent at 90 degrees. Then alternate lifting your legs 3-4 inches off the ground with your knees still bent.
For a more challenging version, start at the edge of your chair, but this time, grip either side of the seat with your hands. Next, extend your legs slightly past 90 degrees and carefully lift both legs while leaning back slightly.
4. Shoulder Shrugs
This exercise is perfect for you if you hold tension in your neck or shoulders.
Simply shrug your shoulders up to your ears, hold for a breath, and release. Repeat this 10-15 times.
5. Standing Side Crunches
Standing side crunches are a great way to work your core in a compact space.
Start with your feet about hip-width apart and hands behind your head. Then bring one knee up toward your elbow on the same side. You should feel the muscles along your side contracting as you do so.
Lower your foot back to the ground and repeat on the other side.
Cat-cow is a yoga pose that’s great for improving spine mobility and alleviating back pain.
Starting on your hands and knees, bring your head up s you’re staring straight ahead. While here, think about relaxing your shoulders away from your ears and curving your lower back toward the floor.
Hold for a breath or two before lowering your head and looking toward your thighs while arching your back toward the ceiling and tucking your tailbone. Move through each position several times.
7. Glute Bridges
Strengthen your lower back with a few glute bridges while taking a quick break from work.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Keep your arms by your sides and engage your core muscles. Press your hips up towards the ceiling, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement.
Pause momentarily and then lower your hips back down to the starting position. Keep your movements slow and controlled and focus on using your glutes to power the movement.
8. Neck Tilts
Are you feeling tightness or stiffness in your neck? Neck tilts can provide some relief!
Start by sitting up straight or standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Next, gently tilt your head to one side, lowering your ear towards your shoulder, and hold for a few seconds. Then bring your head back to the center and repeat on the other side.
Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed and avoid any sudden movements. With consistent practice, neck tilts can help alleviate tension and improve your range of motion.
9. Wall Push-Ups
Wall push-ups are a bit easier to complete in a work environment than a full push-up from the floor.
First, find a sturdy wall with enough space for you to extend your arms fully. Stand about arm’s length away from the wall, then place your palms flat on the wall at chest height. Make sure your feet are hip-width apart, your core is engaged, and your shoulders are relaxed.
From there, slowly lower your body towards the wall by bending your elbows and keeping your back straight. Once your nose almost touches the wall, push yourself back to the starting position. Aim for three sets of 10 reps to start.
10. Hip Flexor Stretch
Your hip flexors are a group of muscles that can get especially tight from sitting all day, so be sure to include some hip flexor stretches into your work break exercise routine.
Start in a lunge position with your left foot forward and your right knee touching the ground. Engage your core and slowly lower your pelvis toward the ground until you feel a stretch in the front of your right hip. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.
Another option is the butterfly stretch. Sit on the ground, bring the soles of your feet together, and bring your heels towards your body. Gently press your knees toward the ground until you feel a stretch in your inner thighs and hip flexors. Remember, it’s important to listen to your body and not push yourself beyond your limits.
Even if you can only dedicate 10 minutes of your workday to physical activity, you’ll notice improved focus and fewer aches and pains at the end of the day.
Instead of reaching for another cup of coffee to get you through the day, try one or two of these exercises instead. Maybe you can even convince a few of your coworking friends to join you, so you can all experience better productivity and a healthier lifestyle!