Stop us if this sounds familiar: You get to work early in the morning and stay glued to your desk until it’s time to leave. You barely moved all day, and now you won’t have time to exercise when you get home. (And even if you did have time, it’s hard to resist the siren call of Netflix and the couch.) We’re living in an age where sedentary lifestyles are becoming the new norm. According to one analysis of studies totaling nearly 800,000 people, the average adult spends 50 to 70 percent of his or her time sitting. As you can imagine, this isn’t doing great things for our brains or our bodies. And yet the science on the subject couldn’t be more clear: if we want to perform at our best, we have to get moving.

Making time to exercise, or even incorporating short bursts of movement into our day, can feel challenging, but it’s actually much more doable than you think. And once you make a few small changes, you’ll see how easy it is to feel that much more energized during your day.

Welcome to the Thrive Guide to Movement and Exercise

Thrive Global is a behavior change platform focused on lowering stress and burnout while increasing well-being and productivity. The company, founded by Arianna Huffington, creates lasting change in people’s lives by giving them sustainable, science-backed solutions to enhance their performance and overall well-being.

This Thrive Guide will not only show you why regular movement is so important, but how to make it part of your daily life—even on days when your schedule is so packed it seems like you don’t have a moment to spare.

When your work and items on your personal to-do list are piling up, exercise often falls off the list entirely. But it only takes a bit of advance planning and perseverance to make it happen—and the payoff more than justifies the effort. You’ll see how simple it is to incorporate more movement into your day with our Thrive Global Microsteps—simple, science-backed changes you can start acting on today. 

You’ll meet the New Role Models Of Success who prove that making exercise a priority benefits us both personally and professionally. Chip Bergh, President and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co, and Becky Schmitt, Walmart’s Senior Vice President of Global People, both told Thrive that exercise is one of their greatest sources of energy, while Siddharth Chatterjee, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya, takes his exercise to the next level, telling Thrive that he runs a half marathon every weekend. (Don’t worry—you don’t need to become an endurance runner to reap the benefits of regular workouts.)

In our Tech to Thrive section, we’ve curated the best technology to help you bring more movement into your day.

Getting active is important for your well-being, but supporting your team in their own efforts to move is also crucial. Our Managerial Takeaways section offers advice for managers to serve as role models for their direct reports and help them achieve their exercise goals. Exercise has countless mental and physical benefits, so it’s a goal everyone can get behind.

By the end of this guide, you’ll have all of the information you need to make exercise and movement a regular part of your daily life. First, let’s dive into the research, which shows that consistent movement is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, no matter your personal or professional goals.

How Being Active Improves Your Life and Your Work

We’ll start with the obvious: exercise does a body good. Study after study shows that sedentary lifestyles are linked to poor health outcomes, from increased risk of death during a given time to shorter telomeres (the caps on the ends of your DNA strands that shrink with age), and elevated risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

Getting active, especially when you’re starting from scratch, is a boon to your physical well-being. One small 2008 study found that previously-sedentary people who spent 20 minutes doing low-intensity exercise (think leisurely walking) three times a week for six weeks increased their energy levels by 20 percent and reduced their fatigue by 65 percent compared to participants who didn’t exercise. Regular exercise is also linked to better sleep quality, another known energy-booster.

Taking up exercise doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym seven days a week, or even staying for very long when you do go. In fact, in one study published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal, an intense, 7-minute body weight routine gave people nearly the same benefits as a long run and a weight training session (Yes, you read that right—a 7-minute workout.) And running just 5 to 6 miles per week is linked to lower risk of certain cancers, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Keep in mind that one way to free yourself from the idea of “exercise” as just another to-do on your already long list is to move toward a broader way of thinking about it: simply as movement.

You can even turn your daily commute into a health-booster. People who regularly biked to work decreased their risk of cancer and heart disease by 45 percent and 46 percent, respectively, according to a 2017 study in the British Medical Journal. Making your commute more active could also help you avoid getting sick. One study found that people who engaged in aerobic exercise at least five days a week were 43 percent less likely to report upper respiratory symptoms than their less-active counterparts.

If you’re desk-bound by day, even a little movement here and there can help. In one study, swapping as little as two minutes of sitting with gentle walking per hour lowered subjects’ risk of premature death by 33 percent compared to people who rarely took a break from sitting.

When it comes to your work performance, exercise may be the best tool you’re not utilizing, from improving your creative problem solving to boosting your productivity and time management skills. Regularly breaking a sweat may even make you more resilient to stress, a study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology suggests.

Nor does it doesn’t take much to make these changes happen. Research has shown that a single session of heart-pumping exercise increases blood flow to the brain’s frontal lobe, which is involved in planning, concentration, goal-setting and time management. A 2010 review in Acta Psychologica also found that just 20 minutes of exercise per day can help your brain process information and improve your memory.

If your mental and emotional well-being are important to you (and whose isn’t?), exercise can help with that, too. One 2017 study published in Cognition and Emotion found that just one 30-minute session of moderate exercise helped people reduce their negative emotions in response to a stressor. There’s even research that suggests regular exercise may help treat depression in people who don’t respond to medication, and that a 90-minute walk outside can lead to decreased activity in the brain area that controls depressive rumination. And if you’re more into yoga or swimming than walking, studies suggest they can also provide a mood boost.

Here’s one last reason to make exercise part of your day-to-day: it leads to a domino-effect of positive outcomes, according to research published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2017. The study authors wrote that “daily exercise predicted increased positive social and achievement events on the same day. Exercise on one day also predicted greater positive social events on the subsequent day.” Now doesn’t that sound like the kind of ripple effect you want to create in your life?

Commit to Making Changes Now

You’ve seen how much of a difference movement can make it your life. Now it’s time to start incorporating microsteps into your day.

  1. Take a short walk and focus on your breathing.
    You can still your mind even when you’re moving your body. If you’re in a place filled with noise and distractions, a quiet walk can help bring you into closer contact with yourself, your breath, and the world beyond your workplace.

  2. Take a “stretch break.”
    It may sound small, but frequent movement fuels your body and your mind. Stand up, change positions, stretch — anything to get your blood flowing.

  3. Build recovery time into your day.
    Take a tip from top athletes who introduce small recovery rituals into their game. Simply stop what you’re doing and bring your awareness to the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet, or both. Let it stay there for a minute, and feel the tension leaving your body.

Making these small changes will put you on a path towards greater productivity and well-being, where you reap the benefits almost instantly.