Aetna is one of America’s largest insurance companies with 50,000 employees. In 2010 it undertook a three-month study with Duke University of more than 200 employees who engaged in yoga and meditation.
Employees who took part slept better, felt less stressed and had better heart rates than those that didn’t take part. In a follow up study four years later with 1,000 employees again from Aetna, not only was stress and absenteeism reduced but productivity increased between 47 to 62 minutes per week.
That’s an extra 700 hours of productivity per week. Or 350 days a month for 1,000 employees!
Even if you only employ 500 people that equates to an extra 175 days of productivity per month, based on an 8hr working day. What could your organisation achieve with that extra resource?
What about good old heart pumping exercise – even just of the walking variety? We all know exercise is good for is but what’s the actual science behind it?
From a body standpoint it:
- improves your muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness
- improves your bone health
- reduces your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension), coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetesand some cancers
- helps manage your weight and reduces your risk of becoming obese
All great and important stuff as the body is the tool our brains use to execute what we want to do. However, my interest and focus in this post on the mental side. The neuroscience.
Scores of experiments show that exercise is provides more than just a temporary distraction from mental woes. It helps combat stress and depression in several ways:
- by strengthening our biochemical resilience to stress
- encouraging the growth of new brain cells
- bolstering self-esteem
- possibly even countering an underlying genetic risk of mental illness
The second a person starts exercising their body chemistry changes as oxygenated blood, hormones and neurochemicals surge through the body and brain. This increase the creation of mitochondria, the cells responsible for energy production in the body and brain. This may explain the mental edge we feel after exercise.
A 2014 study published in Neurology found that physical exercise has an extensive and long lasting influence on cognitive performance.
Perversely, doing nothing can also boost mental performance, lower stress and increase motivation for work. This doing nothing is goes by different names, meditation, mindfulness even daydreaming.
People who regularly meditate develop the cortex the brain’s outer layer and critical for sophisticated mental abilities like abstract thought. Practitioners also have an increased volume and density in the hippocampus the memory section. Finally, it thickens regions of the frontal cortex which help regulate our emotions and prevents the wilting of regions of the brain involved in sustaining attention as we age.
Studies are now showing us that these brain changes can begin to occur after only a few weeks of meditating for a mere 10 to 20 minutes a day.
The overall effect of both exercise and or meditation on the mental health and cognitive performance is without question. It’s the perhaps the most easy, sustainable, morally ethical and cost effective solution to the employee performance/productivity dilemma facing all organisations
So what to do?
With the new year upon us, and resolutions of being fitter and healthier on any people’s minds, January represents the best time of year to help staff get into the habits that will benefit them, and your organisation for the rest of the year.
Rather than prescribe a one-size fits all solution here I’m going to suggest that organisations can engage their own employees to help them find the answer to the following questions (as a starter for ten):
How can we best help you to get into the daily habit of getting away from your desks and electronic devices to exercise or meditate for just 15 mins a day minimum?
How can we enable you to be more physically active while at work?
How can we make a daily exercise habit fun and engaging?
How we can align a daily exercise habit into our company values/mission?
What are your thoughts or experience of using exercise and meditation as a way of boosting employee resilience, performance and wellbeing?