Most of us want to love our jobs, but the never-ending stream of emails and an overly demanding boss can leave us feeling stressed, crabby, and drained. But you don’t necessarily need to overhaul your career to feel happier at work: New research shows that a short walk to your lunch break is all it takes to perk you up and make your job more enjoyable.
In a recent study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 56 physically inactive adults—those who got less than 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week—went on 30-minute group walks during lunchtime, 3 times a week for 10 weeks. They could walk at whatever speed and intensity they wanted. Twice a week, participants received text message questionnaires about their enthusiasm about their work, relaxation, nervousness, and how heavy their workload was that day. They’d answer the same questions in the morning—before their lunchtime walk—and again in the afternoon. Sometimes participants received the text messages on days that they didn’t walk, allowing researchers to compare the difference in their moods on days they walked and days they didn’t.
The results: going for a walk at lunchtime made people feel more enthusiastic, less fatigued, and less stressed about their jobs in the afternoon than they felt in the morning. Plus, they also felt better on days they walked than on days they didn’t.
There are a few different reasons that walking could have had these effects, says study author Cecilie Thøgersen-Ntoumani, PhD, an associate professor at Curtin University in Australia. Physical activity increases happy brain chemicals that perk up your mood, and going for a walk gives you a sense of accomplishment—if you can tackle that, you can tackle anything your boss throws your way. “Plus, people feel connected when they exercise together,” she says.
And even though this particular study looked at walking, any exercise that you enjoy will have the same benefits. “The key is that people enjoy the activity; otherwise they won’t continue,” says Thøgersen-Ntoumani.
Bottom line: no matter what type of activity you choose, taking just 30 minutes to get some exercise is going to make your work day go by much faster.