After a morning of back-to-back meetings, whether in person or virtual, my mind is ready to explode, while my brain needs to recharge.
Throughout my career, when I worked in New York City or at a startup in Silicon Valley years ago and on through today, I’ve made it a priority to eat lunch at my desk and schedule time to exercise in the middle of the day. Whether my daily routine fluctuated, then after moving to the Greater Boston area with its icy cold winters and even with an overflowing inbox and list of to-dos, I knew if I didn’t prioritize my mental well-being, my work would suffer.
I’ve never let weather get in the way. It could be blazing hot heat or a blizzard dumping knee deep snow. It’s like brushing your teeth: do it every day, with the add-on that I carefully plan for it.
Exercise gives my brain a mental break and recharges me for the rest of the day. It also helps me handle challenging situations with less stress and better outcomes.
Given I’m a swimmer, I found short quality midday swims to be calming and restorative. Early in my career, one of my Silicon Valley bosses didn’t want me breaking for exercise in the middle of the day. I was like a dog with a bone working to convince him, not letting up until he understood that a short noon workout every day made me a better performer. Then, to my surprise and joy, my boss took swimming lessons after work and joined me on some of my noontime swims. He too experienced his own performance boost.
The takeaway: if you encounter resistance, keep making your case. You’ll likely end up with agreement, a grateful boss, and possibly a workout partner as I did.
Later on, when I ran my Boston-based startup, I encouraged my team to exercise midday. Depending on when your day starts, midday can mean many things. At my company, software developers and scientists often started their day at 11, so for them midday was 3 or 4pm. Because mine often started at 6am to accommodate meetings with Europe and Asia, because we were doing business in 100 countries, midday for me was 11am.
Time zones dictated when overseas business transactions took place. The only time I could take for myself was that sacred middle-of-the-day slot. Before I left the company to focus full time on angel investing, board memberships, and mentoring startups, my office was conveniently near a swimming pool. Now that my work is mostly remote, I walk with my dog around a reservoir near my home. Fortunately, I can adjust my schedule if needed. Typically, the dog and I walk in the noon hour.
Others Who Follow a Similar Routine
When I asked some friends about their exercise habits, I discovered midday is popular regardless of the type of work they do. A few shared their lunchtime break story.
Taylor, an architect working from her office in midtown Manhattan, starts her day early. At lunch, she walks around Bryant Park, which is next to her building. The walk resets her mood and gives her a healthy dose of Vitamin D. She told me it provides inspiration for her latest innovative architectural designs.
Miguel and his crew do most of their Massachusetts house painting in spring, summer, and fall. Originally from Brazil, they listen to Brazilian music while working. They take their lunch in the shade, then dance to the music. It’s a satisfying break for them and a unique experience for the lucky homeowner whose house they’re painting.
Charlie has been a software developer for years. Although he loves his work, he craves time off from staring at the screen and hunching over the keyboard for hours at a time. He walks around a nearby body of water to clear his head and finds he’s able to solve complex problems he’s been wrestling with. His walk completed, he’s ready to burrow back into work.
New York City tech professionals Gabrielle and Luis schedule a short midday walk through their Carroll Gardens neighborhood in Brooklyn. With one Zoom meeting after another, they often feel they’re spinning in a vortex, ready to burst. Breaking around noon gives them essential sunlight (even when it’s overcast, you still get the benefits of daylight). They process better and reflect on information from their morning meetings, which aids their decision-making, puts them in a better mood, and boosts their afternoon productivity.
You might worry that after a short exercise break you’ll return to a digital stack of emails or Slack messages, or that you’ll lose your focus. To the issue of focus in particular, I have good news. Science shows that brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods. An exercise diversion adds even more benefits.
The Science about Brief Exercise Breaks
A large study published in the Journal of Neurology showed that across a broad age range, even small amounts of exercise, such as walking 15 minutes a day, have a noticeable effect on almost all regions of the brain. The researchers found that the increased oxygen intake and blood flow while their subjects exercised gave their bodies a big boost of energy.
I can attest that the opposite happens without exercise. On the rare occasion my schedule gets in the way of my midday burst of exercise, I can feel my performance start to sag.
Try to schedule a midday exercise break into your daily routine. Encourage others — even your boss — to join you. And if they need extra convincing, tell them science says it’s a good thing to do. Once you make it a habit, you’ll find yourself blissfully looking forward to it.
About the Author
Marjorie Radlo-Zandi, founder of Jazzas, is an angel investor, board member, and mentor to innovative early-stage companies.