Modern life is often high-pressured; and more so than for previous generations. Today with an idea of ‘perfect’ being incessantly portrayed on social media young adults and working families come under a lot of pressure to conform. Pressure to achieve goals and progress your career, while being a devoted partner and gushing parent with high-achieving kids is taking its toll on modern families. Add to that the pressure to look good, exercise regularly and eat healthily many men and women feel as though they are failing at so called ‘adulting’! However, could exercise and healthy eating actually make it easier to succeed in other areas or your life, and improve your work-life balance?

Life of a Working Parent in 2020

Harrassed working woman with baby

Many parents spend each week juggling work, childcare, housework, and other commitments such as family, friends and extra-curricular activities. Most parents get through each week and complete everything required of them; but how many feel that they are doing a good job?

A 2019 study, based on UK participants, highlighted that working mothers with two children are on average 40% more stressed than their same age counterparts without children. A similar study also noted that 44% of parents check their work emails or do work in an evening. These statistics indicate that there is a lack of work-life balance for parents and families in 2020.

In addition, even before adding the stress of parenthood to the mix, it appears that young people age 16-24 are also suffering under the burden of pressure. A 2018 survey in the UK estimates that a concerning 60% of young adults, in the age range 16-24, struggle to cope with the pressures of everyday life. This generation has been referred to in the media as the ‘snowflake generation’. But, should we be taking these concerns more seriously and helping all young people and working families to improve their mental health and work-life balance?

Adding Exercise into the Mix

Exhausted working male

Health and fitness in itself can be another demand. Social media is packed with images and videos of celebrities and influencers, male and female, juicing, taking early morning runs, and posing in skimpy clothing to show off their perfectly toned bodies. This adds to the pressure of young adults, whether a parent or not, to maintain a healthy lifestyle and trim figure.

However, exercise in itself can be part of the solution to creating an ideal work-life balance. It may seem counter-intuitive to add in an additional task to find the time each week to exercise. However, the benefits of regular exercise appear to outweigh the effects of having to find time to fit in an additional activity.

A change of mindset is required. It may seem that taking time out, from work or family life, to exercise is selfish; an unnecessary indulgence. However, in reality many different studies have shown that taking this time for yourself to exercise can actually make you more productive and focused both at home and at work.

Exercise and Productivity – The Science

There have been numerous research studies carried out over recent years into the positive effects of exercise on all aspects of physical and mental health, as well as work-life balance. There are three ways in which exercise can help you to improve that balance despite the fact that building in time to exercise is another commitment on your already stretched resources.

  1. Stress relief
  2. Increasing self-efficacy
  3. Increasing endurance

These benefits translate into not only improved physical health, but also improved mental health. With a better sense of wellbeing those who exercise regularly are better able to cope with the daily demands of life. Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly are better able to compartmentalise different aspects of their life; allowing them to be present in the current. This means higher productivity at work, better focus during family time and an overall increase in work-life balance.

Exercise and Stress Relief

Feeling good after a workout

Feeling stressed is one of the most common complaints of working adults. Reserach has shown that exercise is fantastic for stress relief. Exercise releases endorphins into the bloodstream - endorphins are also known as the ‘feel-good’ hormone. This nickname has arisen because endorphins trigger a positive response in the body, they are natural pain relievers; maximising pleasure and minimising discomfort.

If you have ever heard of a runners-high, this is the effect of endorphins. There’s no need to run though; any form of exercise will release endorphins into your body. Endorphins are not fully understood; but they are thought to have benefits in the following areas:

  • Reducing the symptoms of depression
  • Lowering stress and anxiety
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Regulation of appetite

By undertaking regular exercise, you will lower your stress levels and feel better about yourself.  In turn this may positively impact on the quality of your sleep and result in increased energy levels. All of these things will help toward increasing your efficiency in the workplace and enable you to be mentally and physically there for your family.

Self-Efficacy and Exercise

Positive Can Do It Attitude

Self-efficacy is a term that is often misunderstood, and incorrectly used to mean self-esteem, self-confidence and other such terms. However, self-efficacy is actually the belief an individual has of their own ability to meet their individual challenges and complete the tasks they are required to do. So, in terms of everyday life self-efficacy would be the belief I have in myself to be a good parent, or to do my job effectively, or on a smaller level to do an individual task within my job to a high level of competence. Crucially it is the belief in your own ability that defines self-efficacy.

Many people start an exercise program without believing that they can actually do it. However, joining a gym and going as per your pre-designed schedule builds self-belief that you can attend and stick with the routine. Likewise, setting a goal to be able to run 5k in 8 weeks by using a couch to 5k app, following through, doing the training and making progress builds the belief in yourself that at the end of the program you will be able to run 5k.

Improving your fitness and ability is a fairly quick turn-around; particularly in the early days. It is possible to go from not running at all to running 5k in 8 weeks. Whether you are aiming to lift a heavier weight, cycle or swim further or faster, pass the ball more accurately on the football field or become more technically proficient on a badminton court; improvement can be visible in a short space of time.

Gaining a can-do positive attitude from your exercise pursuits can seep over into work and family life. Successful exercise can equal improved self-efficacy both in the workplace and at home, helping to create a better work-life balance – after all a positive mental attitude can make all the difference.

Exercise and Endurance

Female persevering through a tough workout

Whether an exercise newbie or a seasoned professional setting new targets and pushing your limits will help to build endurance. Whatever exercise you undertake there is always a next step to strive for. Whether you push yourself longer, further, faster or heavier you need determination and perseverance to meet your goals.

Going out to train, no matter the weather or how bad a day you’ve had builds endurance. Endurance built during exercise can translate into improved endurance in other areas of your life. Where you before you may have felt your productivity declining toward the end of the day, now you will be able to power-through to the final minute. Likewise, after a long-day motivation to help the kids with their homework or clean the house might be non-existent, but with increased endurance you will have the focus give 100% to those tasks too.

Ideas to Build Exercise into Your Life

Happy family enjoying time outside together

It is easy to dismiss the idea of exercising when you already have a packed schedule. Factor in traffic, the need to carry around and change in and out of exercise gear, as well as the cost, motivation can dwindle before you have even started. However, exercise can be broken into multiple smaller chunks, or done for a longer time period but less times per week depending on your work and family commitments.

Government guidelines in the UK suggest getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise. This could be broken into 30 minute a day timeslots. Some ideas to consider could be:

  • Cycle or walk to and from work
  • Go for a walk/run in your lunchbreak
  • Go to the gym before or after work
  • Use an onsite/close to work gym in your lunchbreak
  • Get off the bus/tube a couple stops early if you can’t walk the whole distance
  • Join a local sports team – usually midweek training and a weekend game
  • Head out with the family for an evening walk/hike

This list is just a starting point, there are many ways to incorporate exercise into your daily schedule. Give it a try and see how you feel; we are sure that adding exercise into your weekly routine will have a positive effect on your work-life balance.

Get started by picking out some new exercise gear at Sports Fitness, from clothing to accessories for many different sports we have got all the kit you need. Look us up on social media and tell us how you’re getting on and whether you feel that incorporating exercise into your schedule has had a positive impact on your work-life balance.