I start my workday relatively early, parking myself in front of my home computer and often forgetting to get up for hours. Occasionally, I'm roused by my dog, who wants to go outside or warns me that a delivery guy is in the cul de sac. But one thing I try to do every day is take a walk around midday. Even if it's just 10 minutes, the pup and I do a quick lap to burn off some of his energy and to try and clear my head.
Walking at lunch, it turns out, is a smart thing to do. A new study finds that lunchtime strolls can immediately improve your mood, increase relaxation, and make you more enthusiastic about your work.
This doesn't seem like news. After all, we've known forever that walking — and exercise — is good for you. But as the New York Times points out, those fitness studies typically looked at the long-term effects of exercise plans. This new study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, looks at changes that happen more quickly, from one day to the next or even hour to hour.
For the study, researchers gathered a group of mostly sedentary office workers in the U.K. and asked them to take 30-minute lunchtime walks, three days a week for 10 weeks. Most of the volunteers were middle-aged women, although a handful of men also agreed to take part. All were out of shape, but otherwise emotionally and physically healthy.
The volunteers installed apps on their phones that allowed them to answer questions on the mornings and afternoons that they walked. The researchers used those answers to assess how the volunteers were feeling at the time about life and work, and to measure their feelings about everything from stress and tension to motivation and fatigue.
When the researchers compared the volunteers' responses on the afternoons when they walked to the afternoons they didn't walk, there was quite a difference. On the days after a lunchtime amble, the volunteers said they felt less tense, more enthusiastic, more relaxed and able to cope versus on the days when they didn't walk and even compared to the mornings before they walked.
Don't curb your enthusiasm
Those positive feelings may even translate into better worker productivity.
“There is now quite strong research evidence that feeling more positive and enthusiastic at work is very important to productivity,” lead author Cecile Thogersen-Ntoumani, professor of exercise science at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, told the New York Times. “So we would expect that people who walked at lunchtime would be more productive.”
Not surprisingly, the walkers also reaped some positive health benefits from the experiment, making gains in aerobic fitness, for example.
Unfortunately, the researchers told the Times, many of the volunteers didn't believe they'd be able to continue walking once the study ended, primarily because they were expected to work through their lunch breaks. (Sound familiar?)
It's an understandable response, but an unforgivable one — at least from my dog's perspective.