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balancing act

Making time for workouts can actually help you have it all

If it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day, it’s time to squeeze in a workout.

Exercising regularly can make you less anxious about work, and make it easier for you to enjoy your life outside of the office. A soon-to-be-published study in Human Resource Management looks at how physical activity can improve your feelings about work-life balance as well.

Researchers compared the self-reported exercise behavior of 476 working adults to their reported confidence in handling work-family conflicts. Researchers were curious about both sides of the equation—when work responsibilities hinder family life and situations where family obligations made someone unable to work as usual. According to the survey results, higher rates of regular exercise correlated to greater confidence in work-life balance.

“The idea sounds counterintuitive,” lead author Russell Clayton, assistant professor of management at Saint Leo University, said in a press release. “How is it that adding something else to our work day helps to alleviate stress and empower us to deal with work-family issues?”

Our best guess, Clayton says, is that it has to do with stress relief. After all, a 2013 study indicated that even “forced” exercise (literal for lab mice, but perhaps just “reluctant” exercise for humans) can lower stress levels. Exercise also keeps anxiety at bay for longer than simply resting. But perhaps, Clayton suggests, it also gives workers a buffer between home and work.

There’s no one thing an employer can do to help workers escape the “time bind,” or the sense that it’s impossible to provide adequate time to both work and family. But a study on schedules and work-life balance (paywall) finds that when workers felt they had control over their schedules, they achieved better balance.

It seems worth it to carve out an extra half hour to help you disconnect from work, even if it means getting home later. And since working out might benefit workplace commitment, it’s another reason for companies to offer wellness programs that include gym membership—even if it doesn’t save them much money on healthcare costs.

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