Whether you’re still working from home or have returned to the office by now, the 3pm slump is inevitable. In the morning, we’re efficient, making calls and organising team catch-ups and meetings, sending emails with speed and the kind of sign-off that demands a thoughtful and considered response.
But slowly, as the day progresses, our energy wanes. And regardless of what we eat for lunch or the number of caffeinated beverages we choose to consume, 3pm comes around it suddenly feels like we’ve aged a decade. Unable to focus, time moves at a glacial pace for those remaining hours of the day and it’s all we can do to drag ourselves home and into bed.
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This mental exhaustion is a common feeling for many but in some good news, it appears exercise might be the cure. As anyone who has been in the slump can attest, getting into some activewear and breaking a sweat is often the last thing on your mind. However, it might just be the thing you need. As a newly-published study by German researchers suggests, exercise can reverse this mental fatigue in just 30 minutes.
For the study, subjects with cognitive fatigue were grouped into three interventions: 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, 30 minutes of easy stretching and 30 minutes of watching the TV sitcom . The group that cycled for 30 minutes on an exercise bike reported feeling less mentally tired, had improved mood and better perception of their mental capability, and also showed improved ability to take on new tasks. Ultimately, the 30 minutes was seen to restore higher-order executive functions, helping workers to get back online and ready for action.
As the researchers found, exercise during lunchtime does wonders – not just in the short-term, but for the long-term too. Aside from feeling refreshed post-exercise, you can also combat long-term negative alterations in the brain structure and function that can come with chronic, persistent mental fatigue. The study found that the more fatigued someone felt, the more the 30-minute exercise cycle made them feel refreshed.
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It’s worthing noting, though, that the study only looked at 30 minutes of easy aerobic exercise so it’s not exactly clear what the impact of doing, say, an hour’s run might be on mental stress, or a higher intensity exercise. As Women’s Running suggests, “Since we know that mental stress and physical stress build off each other, it’s likely that if a too long or too intense exercise session puts additional strain on the body, it could contribute to fatigue and not help you recover from it.”
But despite exercise being an effective mood-boosting tool to overcome mental fatigue and the dreaded feeling of an afternoon slump, studies also show that people often blow off a workout when feeling overwhelmed because they feel the long-term benefits aren’t as important as their immediate need to chill. If this is something you’re guilty of, we’d suggest scheduling in 30-minutes of exercise just as you would a meeting or Zoom call, to hold yourself accountable and ensure you take that time. Because while your mind might be telling you to lounge and chill, exercise is exactly what your body needs to come back feeling energised and invigorated.
And as the recent study suggests, you don’t need to push yourself. This isn’t a time for analysing metrics on your smartwatch or looking at data, it’s simply about connecting to your body through movement and allowing the tension you’ve built up in the day to release.
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Cape Town-based Jessica Naylor, a seasoned fitness trainer (group exercise) best known for her optimistic, high impact energy workouts has compiled a few fun, effective, equipment-free and lunch break friendly exercises. “All these workouts can be done anywhere, provided there is a bit of space. Prepare to tone and burn all in one,” she says.
Move: Soccer Drill
Nail it: Tap your foot, then the other foot, knee and then the other knee. Pick up the pace and double the time!
Move: High Knees
Nail it: Keep your knees high and the power going, on the spot, in a sprinting motion.
Move: Arms For Days
Nail it: Stand tall, keep your shoulders behind and tummy tight. Place your arms out horizontally. Palm open and thumb facing the roof. Pulse your arms back and forth. Make small movements and feel the burn!
Move: Explosive Star
Nail it: Slightly bend your knees. In one movement make your self into a star shape. Shoot arms and legs out and quickly bring yourself back to the starting position. Repeat this movement 20 times. Hello cardio!
Move: Jump For Joy
Nail it: Point on your toes. Arms stretched up above your head and bounce away!
Move: Quick Feet
Nail it: Make sure your feet are directly under your shoulders. Bend your knees slightly and run on the spot!