Harvard Business Review conducted a two-year review of over 12,800 businesses worldwide and discovered most organizations believe a caring environment is the most important element in a company’s culture. Comprehensive wellness benefits and fitness incentives help to establish a relationship of trust and reciprocity between employers and their team. By incorporating physical exercise into your company culture, you can prove your organization cares for employees and prioritizes their health.
Decades of research in neuroscience also shows participants have greater cognitive function with regular exercise, which means a fitness incentive could even be a profitable long-term HR strategy. Here’s how physical activity empowers employees to do their best and a few tips on how to incorporate workouts into your meeting agenda.
How Does Physical Exercise Affect Cognitive Function?
Researchers are still investigating how physical activity improves cognitive performance, but several theories could explain the connection:
The Brain’s “Reward System”
When a person exercises, the pituitary gland releases two neurotransmitters: dopamine and serotonin. When opioid receptors in the brain receive these neurotransmitters, the “reward system” is activated and the subject will feel more relaxed and content. With intense physical exercise, they might even develop a sense of euphoria, colloquially known as a “runner’s high.” Robert G. McMurray at the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill suggests exercising at 80% intensity for at least 20-30 minutes to get an endorphin rush.
While these “feel-good” neurotransmitters increase during physical exercise, adrenaline and cortisol levels decrease. Adrenaline and cortisol control the body’s stress response—when they are overproduced during prolonged or intense pressure, they can impair cognitive functioning, concentration, and decision-making. Subjects might be more likely to procrastinate, become irritable, or exercise poor judgement. Because exercise alleviates stress and balances the endocrine system, working out makes it easier for employees to concentrate and think clearly.
The Circulatory System
An elevated heart rate could be another factor that ties physical fitness with mental acuity. When a person exercises, their heart speeds up, causing oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to circulate more efficiently. When circulation throughout the body improves, biological functions—including information processing—also become more efficient.
Working out even offers benefits at the cellular level. Aerobic exercises like jogging stimulate protein production. These protein amino acids are used to create additional mitochondria and ribosomes, two cellular structures that are responsible for generating energy, decoding neurotransmissions, and building chemical bonds. Collectively, these processes all support better signaling between cells in the brain and nervous system, which could create a cognitive edge.
Recent animal studies show exercise could support neurogenesis, a process by which new neurons are created in the brain. Neurogenesis is thought to occur throughout a person’s lifetime and is tied to mood regulation, memory, spatial learning, and overall cognitive function. Some scientists speculate neurogenesis may be the key to avoiding cognitive decline, neurodegenerative diseases, and mental illness; others think the process is mostly influential during early development and becomes less frequent with age. In any scenario, the frequency of exercise corresponds with the benefits yielded through neurogenesis.
Tips for Incorporating Physical Exercise Into Your Meeting Agenda
Physical activity produces immediate advantages—it’s mood-boosting, energizing, and mentally stimulating. To realize these benefits during your next meeting, consider the following suggestions:
- When you first introduce physical exercise to your team, choose beginner-level activities and go slowly. Gentle stretching might be a good starting point so everyone can participate safely.
- Encourage participants to modify exercises as needed.
- Make announcements active by asking participants to stand when they talk.
- Host walking meetings on days when the weather is comfortable.
- Make a game during your next meeting—for example, by tossing a ball back and forth during a brainstorming session.
- If the energy in the room seems sluggish, improvise with a few minutes of light exercise, like jogging in place.
- Select activities that can be done in a small space, especially if employees work remotely in a home office.
- Tap into the meditative power of deep breathing exercises to stimulate creative thinking and relaxation.
Embracing Wellness in Your Company Culture
Meetings that incorporate exercise are just the beginning when it comes to building a comprehensive wellness culture. To learn about hosting department-wide exercise classes and creating fitness incentives, click here and don’t forget to visit our webinar library. Gympass offers corporate benefits plans for organizations of all sizes and partners with over 55,000 gyms and studios worldwide, allowing your employees to choose from a broad range of activities and personal trainers. Our solution also offers digital subscriptions to wellness apps like Calm, Wellness Coach, and iFeel digital therapy.