Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve certainly heard about the wellness benefits that regular exercise — even of the mild variety — can bring your employees.

And now comes a new study driving that point home, indicating that a short walk at lunchtime a few times a week can significantly reduce work-related stress and help people perform better.

The study, done at the University of Birmingham in England, recruited several dozen sedentary workers who were not in particularly good physical shape at the outset of the experiment. The researchers divided them into two groups, with members of one group walking for 30 minutes at lunchtime three times a week for 10 weeks. The other group, the control, did not walk for the first 10 weeks, but was asked to do so over a further 10-week period.

Taking the emotional temperature
To measure how the participants felt before and after walking — and when they did not walk — the researchers loaded their smart phones with a specialized app that asked a list of questions about their emotions, including how they felt about their levels of stress and tension, as well as their enthusiasm and motivation or lack of same, their workload and their physical fatigue.

When the results were all in, they were pretty conclusive. The researchers said that after a lunchtime stroll, walkers reported feeling much more enthusiastic, relaxed and able to cope with their afternoon’s work than when they hadn’t walked. Furthermore, the walkers also reported an improvement from their moods in the morning before the walk.

The researchers pointed out that while they didn’t study productivity as part of this particular experiment, there is plenty of research-based evidence that feelings of enthusiasm at work are important to productivity.

Replicating the conditions?
Even if you think this kind of exercise would be a great thing for your employees, you may not be able to perfectly replicate the experimental conditions. For one thing, the participants in the British study had a long enough lunch break that they were able to walk for 30 minutes and still have time to eat. Such may not necessarily be the case in your workplace.

But it seems clear that whatever you can do to encourage employees to take a stroll — even around the building — a couple of times a week will be good for them, and good for the organization. Everyone benefits when employee stress levels are kept in check.

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