Employees who exercise are more productive, study finds

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2011, 12:00am

A physically fit workforce can raise annual productivity by A$2,500 (HK$19,800) for every employee.

That's according to results released last month of a clinical trial conducted by Swinburne University's Brain Sciences Institute involving employees from SAP AG Australia, an enterprise application software company.

'The research showed that there is a very clear link between physical fitness and brain function,' says Professor Paul Taylor, founder of the Body-Brain Performance Institute in Australia, and co-founder of a sister institute in Singapore.

The trial - which ran over 60 days from April to June this year - involved 40 randomly selected SAP employees in Melbourne.

They were split into two equal groups: both did a walking programme of 10,000 steps a day, while one group had additional gym sessions three times a week that focused on resistance training.

A neuropsychological test battery developed by Swinburne University was used to measure various important aspects of brain function that are typical for managers and executives, says Marcel Daane, managing director of the Body-Brain Performance Institute in Singapore.

These include the ability of the brain to plan, remember, simulate future scenarios and make decisions.

The tests found that physical activity is good, but more vigorous exercise is even better.

'There were improvements in the employees' mood and cognition from both of the groups, with the exercise group surpassing the results of the control group,' says Taylor.

The exercise group showed significant increases in alertness and energy levels. Their anger and stress levels also 'dropped significantly', while the walking group showed no improvement in this area.

Working memory - needed for complex tasks such as reasoning, judgment and decision making - improved by 2 per cent with the walking group and by 4 per cent with the exercise group.

Both groups improved their reaction time, but the exercise group arrived at decisions much faster - and more accurately.

With the average Australian office worker walking between 3,000 and 5,000 steps a day, SAP Australia will start a 10,000 steps walking programme, supported by an online wellness platform developed by the Body-Brain Performance Institute.