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A fit body for a fine mind

This week, we got some more science backing the visual evidence. A new study reported that what keeps Obama, Bush and others like them on their toes is regular exercise, Sanchita Sharma.

health and fitness Updated: Dec 20, 2008 23:49 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Ask anyone why they don’t exercise and they’re likely to say — ‘It’s boring’, and /or ‘I have no time’. What is almost always implicit is that it is people who do are losers who exercise because they have nothing better to do. Actually, the reverse is true. People who take time out to run, walk for gym without their doctor telling them to are usually people with far more packed schedules than the average Joe.

The world’s new poster boy for fitness, US president-elect Barak Obama, worked out regularly on his hectic campaign trail, making John McCain look tired and lost even before losing the election.

So does President George Bush, whose high fitness levels helped him evade the shoe-missiles in Iraq with an ease that should be the envy of all politicians in the subcontinent. Without doubt, the shoes would have found their mark —not once, but both times —had the target been one of our well-fed, somnolent leaders.

This week, we got some more science backing the visual evidence. A new study reported on Friday that what keeps Obama, Bush and others like them on their toes is regular exercise. It is a better pick-me-up than coffee, with people who take exercise breaks being more productive, alert, efficient and calm than those who don’t. (The exercise-induced calm probably explains Bush’s quick comeback about shoe size!).

A study on the impact of workplace facilities like gyms and yoga classes in the UK showed that exercise breaks energise people and improve their concentration and problem-solving skills, report Bristol University researchers in the Journal of Workplace Health Management.

While it’s too early for offices to replace coffee breaks with gym breaks, employers need to consider weaving

in “activity breaks” into workplace schedules so that workers don’t have to feel guilty about being away from their desks every other day. The idea is that the fitter employee’s efficiency more than makes up for the time lost in the gym.

What’s more, the benefits of exercise are felt almost at once, regardless of the overall fitness levels. The Bristol study also shows that an employee works better on the days he or she exercises than on days he or she doesn’t.

Why it happens is fairly simple. Exercise boosts the supply of oxygenated blood to the brain, which increases alertness, memory and thinking capacity. Exercise also elevates mood by making the body release endorphins, the “happy” hormones that bust stress by creating a state of mild euphoria. “It’s generally well-known now that there are many physical and mental health benefits that can be gained from regular exercise. The suggestion is that employers who are ahead of the game in offering proper onsite facilities actually get less from their employees on days that they don’t exercise,” said lead author Jo Coulson in a statement.