Will 20 Minutes Of Exercise Make Us Happier And More Productive?

Research says exercise improves our memories and mood, but if we make time for the treadmill every day will we really be more productive?

Will 20 Minutes Of Exercise Make Us Happier And More Productive?
[Runner: lzf via Shutterstock]

Editor’s Note: This story is part of 5 Habits Changes You Can Actually Make In 2015. Check out the full list here.


We know that exercise is good for us.

But when our lives are full of meetings, deadlines, distractions, and endless tasks, adding one more thing to our to-do list can seem daunting. “I’m too busy,” quickly becomes our excuse for skipping our workout.

But what if making time to work out actually made us more likely to get work done?

According to Saint Leo University assistant professor of Management Russell Clayton, this just might be the case.

Research has shown that the brain reacts in several beneficial ways to exercise. For example, it triggers the release of a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, which helps improve our learning and memory. Additionally, exercise triggers the release of endorphins, which significantly reduce feelings of stress. “A reduction in stress is tantamount to an expansion of time,” Clayton writes in HBR.

Just as importantly, according to Clayton, are the feelings of self-efficacy that come with exercise, which make us less likely to avoid difficult tasks or situations and more likely to see them as challenges to be mastered.


To be more productive, Clayton says, we can exercise any time during the day with whatever activity works best for us. In fact, to see mental benefits, exercise doesn’t have to be extremely rigorous; just a little bit of movement every day helps says Christopher Bergland, author of The Athlete’s Way: Sweat and the Biology of Bliss. And according to the New York Times‘ well-being expert Gretchen Reynolds, exercising for about 20 minutes at a time is optimal.

For the next week, I plan to see if I can give my body and my mind a boost by exercising every day for 20 minutes at a time. I hope you’ll join me.

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About the author

Rachel Gillett is a former editorial assistant for’s Leadership section. Her work has been featured on,, and elsewhere.