Being fit and healthy does more that just boost someone’s looks. Recent studies have shown that even moderate physical activity offers big benefits, including better immunity, healthier body weight, improved sleep and even a sharper mind.
Balanced nutrition and sufficient sleep also bestow rewards, ranging from a healthier body weight and reduced risk of illness and disease to sharpened mental acuity. Combined, these benefits add up to individual and business success.
Exercise and the mind.
Exercise provides innumerable perks for the brain, supporting healthy functioning in several ways.
Researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas found that regular cardiovascular exercise improved memory and cognition in older adults. A Stanford University study discovered cognitive and mood-boosting benefits after moderate exercise in young and older adults.
Research in mice has suggested that endurance exercise triggers a series of reactions and hormones in the brain that support the development of new neurons while improving mood and cognition. A key brain hormone produced during exercise, irisin, is also suspected to have metabolic and antiaging effects.
Other research on exercise and the brain has shown enhanced learning and brain plasticity, neuroprotective benefits and depression alleviation and prevention. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has suggested exercise is an effective way to relieve stress and anxiety.
Fitness and immunity.
Regularly exercising can also help boost the immune system, better equipping the body to fight infections, inflammation and certain illnesses.
According to the National Institutes of Health Medline Plus website, research has shown regular exercise helps the body fight bacterial and viral infections and decreases the risks of heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer. A recent Italian study found that regular exercise is associated with reduced low-grade inflammation in the body.
The NIH guide explains that exercise is believed to aid immunity by flushing out bacteria and carcinogenic cells, speeding circulation of antibodies and white blood cells, temporarily increasing body temperature and slowing the release of stress hormones.
It recommends a moderate exercise program such as daily walks, bicycling a few times a week, light sports or regular gym sessions for immunity-boosting benefits.
The key to sticking with fitness is to find an enjoyable activity rather than one that feels like a chore. Any form of exercise, from weightlifting and yoga to following the prompts of an at-home fitness DVD, is better than staying sedentary.
Even when mountains of work pile up a quick jog or boxing session can boost motivation and help refocus energy. Taking time for personal fitness is essential to avoiding burnout and stress.
Nutrition, energy and performance.
Diet and nutrition are critical to individual performance. Research by the United Nations’ International Labour Office found that inadequate nutrition affects worker productivity, physical work capacity and performance. Even national productivity and economic growth are affected.
The International Labour Office has linked poor nutrition with increased absenteeism and sickness, low morale and increased accidents. Obese workers were twice as likely to miss work compared with normal weight individuals, with obesity costing U.S. businesses an estimated $12.7 billion.
By educating their workforces on proper nutrition and ensuring access to healthy foods, employers can receive significant benefits, from improved productivity to reduced spending on health care and sick days.
Entrepreneurs and other busy people often rely on fast, convenient foods that aren't necessarily nutritionally sound. Make an effort to pack lunches or seek out healthier options.
Workplaces could also incorporate fresh fruit and vegetables into break rooms, invite a nutrition coach to give a seminar or partner with local vendors and food trucks that offer healthy meals if catering or a full-service cafeteria are not practical.
The perks of sleep.
An important, yet often overlooked, component of health and fitness is sleep. Sleep is needed to support physical fitness and exercise, is tied to eating habits and plays a major role in mental performance and motivation.
Sleep deprivation is associated with a higher body mass index and a greater incidence of obesity, according to a Harvard School of Public Health article. Sleep deprivation is associated with eating more calories and making less healthy food choices, likely due to increases in hunger hormones and added time to eat, the article explained. Feeling tired during the day also makes physical activity less likely, meaning fewer calories are burned.
But weight and fitness are just a small part of the sleep picture. Getting sufficient rest is critical mentally (for attention, focus, learning, memory, problem solving and mood) and physically for reducing the risk of inflammation and chronic disease.
The bottom line.
Emphasizing healthier habits is key to employee productivity and the bottom line. Good managers and entrepreneurs have a true interest in their employees’ well-being, in my experience.
As far as business benefits, healthy people take fewer sick days. People who exercise, sleep and eat well also have better mental acuity, drive, focus and performance, boosting efficiency on the job.
This means a more productive workplace with fewer wasted costs, which research has borne out.
A large study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found on average a 27 percent lower absenteeism rate for workers who ate healthy and exercised regularly. Workers who consumed healthy foods or exercised at least three days a week were more likely to have a higher job performance than those who did not.
When individuals make the effort to prioritize fitness, nutrition and sleep, brain power is boosted, stress reduced andwork performance is improved, along with overall health and moods.
Prioritizing health doesn't necessarily mean a major overhaul or fanaticism. Small and gradual workplace initiatives can make a big impact. Real results can accrue from nap-friendly policies for breaks, seminars from local health experts, lunch walk groups or partial gym membership subsidies.