Newsletter Article

Nutrition, Exercise & Workplace Productivity

One of the key ingredients for a successful business is a productive workforce. A well-equipped working environment is important, but proper nutrition and physical activity may impact not the health of employees, but also their productivity on the job.

We’ve often heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A group of researchers put this adage to the test by taking fMRI scans of subjects while they were performing cognitive function tests. [1] On the morning of the testing, the subjects consumed either water, sugar and water, or a nutritionally balanced liquid food (NBLF) containing carbohydrates, protein, lipids, vitamins, and minerals. The fMRI scans showed higher activation in the prefrontal cortex during testing compared to both the sugar and water groups. As for the cognitive function tests, there did not appear to be any significant differences between groups. However, subjective scores were measured for hunger, concentration, and fatigue. The last measurements were done 3 hours after breakfast, and both the sugar and water groups had much higher reported scores in hunger and fatigue than the NBLF group. Both groups also reported significant decreases in concentration. This study is important because it shows that there may be a difference in functioning if breakfast is skipped or a nutritionally unbalanced breakfast is consumed.

Exercise may also have an effect on cognitive abilities. A meta-analysis showed that steady-state aerobic exercise improved cognitive function immediately after exercise, as well as a short time after exercise. [2] There is a chance that aerobic exercise may aid in productivity if done before work, but one of the shortcomings of these studies was that subjects were tested shortly after exercise, and not later in the day. The study did show that exercising to exhaustion did not improve cognitive function, and may actually hinder it.

These studies demonstrate that proper nutrition and exercise can play a role in worker productivity and overall health. Unhealthy employees tend to cost a company more due to illness related absenteeism and decreased productivity, so when a company takes steps to support the health of its employees, it may also have a positive impact on its bottom line. [3, 4]