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Get Moving: Working (Out) Your Way to Intense Productivity

Garrett Dunham
at Singularity University
Oct 21, 2015

There're a million gurus telling you to exercise more to improve sleep, cognition, and productivity. But do you know the best techniques?

Sex makes us happy. Shocking, right?

Exercise, however, ranks a close second – tied with going to attend your favorite band’s concert. 

Everybody knows that exercise keeps you healthy, and you now know that it makes you happier, but how can it make us more productive?

Maybe it’s time you use your lunch break to walk, jog or hop on a treadmill. You’ll find yourself with a lot more energy when you return to the office.

Exercise Slows Neural Degeneration

A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that mandatory treadmill running increases adult hippocampal neurogenesis in mice – thereby increasing neural stem/precursor cells. In layman’s terms, it increases production of critical brain cells to make you sharper.

By increasing neural stem/precursor cells, we can stave off neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. Interestingly, University of California, Irvine researchers also found that neural stem cells were capable of reversing learning and memory deficits caused by chemotherapy.

In other words, exercise boosts brain function.

Exercise Reduces Stress

Exercise creates a production boost of endorphins, neurotransmitters in your brain that act as natural anti-depressants. Regular exercise often makes you fit, which typically improves self-confidence. As Candace Webb wrote in his article called How to Build Self-Esteem in the Workplace “Employees who feel good about themselves are typically able to focus better, need less time off and generally get along well with coworkers.”

Not only do you feel better when you’re less stressed, you perform better too. 

Exercise Improves Sleep

Scientists at Northwestern University found that exercise might be the best prescription for chronic insomnia. In a study of 23 sedentary adults, mostly women over the age of 55, participants were made to exercise four times a week. They found that exercising participants had an “increase in self-reported sleep duration by 1.25 hours in the exercise plus sleep hygiene education group is higher than what has been reported for other non-pharmacological interventions for insomnia”. Their exercising participants also raised their self-reported sleep diagnosis from “poor” to “good”.

Since researchers have found that moderate sleep deprivation produces the cognitive equivalent to being drunk, more sleep means more productivity. 

Exercise Improves Creative Energy

Have you ever had a brilliant idea while in the shower? The reason is likely because you were able to satiate your motor cortex and “zone out”, giving your subconscious freedom to generate brilliant ideas.

It turns out you can replicate this at work, without the ire of your co-workers, by doing something I call the Brainstorming Hike. The gist is that by taking a small walk for 20-30 minutes, relaxing your mind, and getting into a state of “flow” you can brainstorm unique and often brilliant ideas.

This is also backed by researchers at Stanford University as they found that there was a direct correlation between walking and creativity. So flex your physical muscles to flex your creativity muscles and impress your boss. 

Reduce the Amount of Exercise Needed to Produce Productivity With the Argos Method

In my book, Brutally Productive, I outline the exact workout routine I’ve been using for 30-50 percent gains in productivity – with sub twenty minutes of working out. The key is to increase your heart rate without expending all your ADP, or cellular energy, which would tank your blood sugar.

Using a combination of low reps, high weight, and five-minute breaks, I feel great and am far more productive. I recommend planning to work out all five weekdays with one muscle group per weekday, eg. Monday legs, Tuesday chest, etc. Then find your One Rep Maximum (ORM), the max weight you can lift in a single rep, and do three sets of three reps at 95 percent of your ORM.

So far this has been the most effective method to increase strength and improve productivity without bulking nor exhausting myself. 

You Don’t Have to Work Hard: Low-Intensity Exercise Produces the Same Results

Researchers at the University of Georgia found that exercise increased energy and reduced feelings of fatigue. While reducing feelings of fatigue was dependent on exercise intensity “the effect on feelings of energy was similar for both the low- and moderate-intensity conditions.”

This means that a short jog, 40 air squats, or a short Argos workout will increase your energy levels and productivity.

Or, if you’d rather not hit the gym for 15 minutes a day, just get a dog. As any dog owner will attest, they’ll get you outside and walking in no time.

And yes, exercise really is second only to sex in terms of making us happy.

Image Credit:

AndreyPopov / Getty Images

Garrett Dunham
Garrett Dunham is a Silicon Valley born-and-raised serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and startup advisor. His companies have been featured on the New York Times, NBC, Fast Company and TechCrunch, among others. Recently Garrett founded Pillrs, a way for everyday people to be life-saving heroes by anonymously texting encouragement right when it's needed most. It may be the only place where "Great job!" saves a life. Learn more about him at