You probably reach for sugar or coffee when you need to perk up your brain and get focused at work. But there’s another way for you to boost productivity without consuming unwanted calories or overloading on caffeine.
It’s simple: Just head out for a walk.
Too good to be true? On the contrary, researchers have found numerous benefits to stepping outside for a lunchtime stroll. Of course, it’s good for your health to exercise, but there’s evidence that your brain and boss will thank you, too.
Studies have shown a wide range of benefits from walking, whether you’re in high-speed mode or ambling in the park. Walking gets your creative juices flowing and puts you in a better mood. There’s a good chance you’ll also feel more productive and positive about your work, too.
The next time you need a quick refresher before diving back into a big project, think about these three scientific studies. They all have the same takeaway: Get away from your desk and take a walk outside!
1. Feel happier about your work and your life
Scientists have shown repeatedly that people who exercise feel more alert, confident, and energetic compared to couch potatoes. Those benefits also spill over to work.
A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that people who walked three times a week during lunch felt a lot better after walking for just half an hour:
- They were less tense
- They were more enthusiastic
- And they were more relaxed, too
They also could cope better with their workload compared to days they didn’t fit in a 30-minute walk.
And don’t think these benefits only apply to athletic types; the researchers recruited sedentary people for the study.
They also asked participants to report on their moods on a mobile app before and after walking. They were asked to answer questions that covered the gamut of physical and emotional well-being in their life and at work, including stress, workload, and motivation.
“Lunchtime walks improved enthusiasm, relaxation, and nervousness at work,” the researchers wrote.
Lead author Cecilie Thogersen-Ntoumani, an exercise science professor at Curtin University in Australia, told the New York Times that the study didn’t explicitly address productivity.
But she added, “There is now quite strong research evidence that feeling more positive and enthusiastic at work is very important to productivity. So we would expect that people who walked at lunchtime would be more productive.”
We think that’s a safe conclusion to draw too.
Pro Tip: The next time a big task is looming, take a lunchtime walk and get focused before jumping in.
2. Come up with more creative ideas
When you need to come up with fresh ideas or gain a new perspective on a problem, what should you do? Take a walk, of course!
Innovators like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jack Dorsey utilized walking meetings to prompt the best thinking from themselves and others.
Stanford University researchers confirmed their inclinations in a Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition study.
After conducting four experiments, they confirmed that walking indoors or outdoors improved participants’ ability to think creatively. And these positive effects continued even after they sat down to do inventive work.
“Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity,” the researchers noted.
In fact, compared to sitting, walking ramped up the participants’ creative output during cognitive exercises by about 60 percent.
The researchers surmise that moving puts people in a better mood, which sets the stage for more creative thinking. In addition, focusing on movement is a distraction from linear thinking, which then frees up walkers’ minds to wander to new ideas.
Pro Tip: Take a walk before your next brainstorming session. It’ll help loosen up your mind and body to prepare for out-of-the-box thinking.
3. Pay attention more easily
Many scientists have looked at whether walking or other exercise benefits the brains of the young, the old, and everyone in between. Overall, the answer is yes — it does. Turns out that low-impact exercise triggers numerous positive outcomes, whether your brain is developing, status quo, or even in decline.
Researchers concur that after even the mildest exercise — like a relaxing mid-day stroll with a co-worker — helps forge new connections between brain cells. It also stimulates the growth of neurons, which leads to pumped-up brain power.
One paper published in the journal Neurology followed subjects over nine years. Researchers found that participants who walked longer distances weekly preserved more of their gray matter, and therefore cognitive function, than those who walked less.
At the other end of the spectrum, a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology learned that just 12 minutes of exercise helps improve kids’ cognitive processes and attention.
Finally, University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras noted in a Cognition study that taking brief breaks heightens people’s abilities to focus longer.
During extensive spells of concentration, people’s brains stop focusing because they become desensitized to the task at hand. Taking a short break, it brings the work back to the forefront. And by now, you probably have a pretty good idea of how to spend that break!
Pro Tip: Take your next coffee break outdoors and in motion…and take advantage of this fruitful way to sharpen your attention and brain power.
Stay sharp and industrious at work by taking a walk several times during the workweek.
It helps keep your brain and body healthy while giving you a leg up in concentration, creativity, and productivity — and a positive outlook to boot.