Our work days can get super busy. Besides work, we have to focus on other responsibilities like taking care of our households and ourselves. It can be tough to fit in things like physical activity. Many of us try to squeeze in some time in the morning or, if we are lucky to be in a flexible job, during the day. But, what does the science say about when to be active? How does it impact your work and wellness? Interestingly, a new study highlights the impact of physical activity on your confidence and focus. Today, we break down the key findings so you can figure out when to be active to benefit your mental wellness!
Intrinsically Motivated to Exercise?
Are you one of those people who loves to exercise? Do you feel cranky if you haven’t had a moment to do something active? Are someone who actually loves running? If yes, then you are likely intrinsically motivated to be active. First of all, congratulations! Many of us who are not like you are very jealous.
Second, we have interesting news for you in terms of when and how to stay active! You would benefit from some physical activity before the end of the work day. This means getting moving before work or during the day. However, there’s an important nuance in the study’s findings – you should only do light or vigorous activity, not moderate. People who are intrinsically motivated to do physical activity feel more confident and are more focused at work after an intense workout OR doing something light. You’d feel better after an intense workout class or after a nice leisurely walk around the park. However, if you took a class that wasn’t particularly challenging, you would actually feel worse.
Why is this? Well, as someone who loves to be active, doing something moderate may make you feel like you haven’t done enough. That feeling can distract you at work because you may be considering how to do more later. However, if you do something difficult and vigorous, you are likely to feel good about it, boosting your self-efficacy and focus. Also, if you do something very light, like a walk during lunch, researchers theorize that you don’t count that as a ‘work out’ but more of a bonus. Thus, it doesn’t have the same negative impact as moderate activity. In other words, you aren’t dwelling on the fact that you didn’t do enough since you didn’t see it as your exercise for the day.
Thus, the takeaway is if you want to be active during the work day, focus on vigorous or light activity, not moderate!
Extrinsically Motivated toward Physical Activity?
Now, what about those of us that are not as intrinsically motivated to be active? If you are someone that stays active because you want the health benefits or are looking to be stronger or something else external, listen up! Don’t do vigorous activity before or during the work day! You don’t love it so that hard work out will actually drain you. You’ll feel more tired, less focused, and, likely, less self-efficacious as well. Unlike your intrinsically motivated peers, you don’t leave an intense workout feeling like you conquered the world. You might be proud of yourself but you know it was super hard and feel tired too.
If you want to be active during the day instead of waiting for after work, you should focus on moderate activity. You’ll benefit from light activity too but your sweet spot is with some moderate work. So, you’ll want to sweat a bit and do something somewhat challenging, but don’t go overboard. You don’t want to be struggling and hating every minute. Do something hard enough to feel like you got a workout but easy enough that you aren’t drained. This looks different for everyone but focus on keeping it moderate. This will help you focus and feel more confident the rest of the work day. Win-win, right? Now you have a good reason to not go too hard during the day even if you feel like you should push yourself. Don’t do it!
Obviously, vigorous, moderate, and light activities looks different for each person. As does the type of activity you do during the day. The important message here is that you should tailor your physical activity to your own needs. Figure out what works best for you, considering your motivation to stay active. Be honest with yourself. Do you actually love working out? Make sure you consider your answer as you plan your activity in the future!