Focus on Fatigue

Exercise at Work

Welcome to Focus on Fatigue!

We’ve all experienced moments in our lives when we’ve felt the urge to go to sleep at an inappropriate time. It could happen in a meeting, during a movie, or when we hit that mid-afternoon slump. At these times one of the methods we tend to use to keep the sandman away is to get up and walk around, maybe even do some stretches. This sort of low-level exercise often helps increase our alertness long enough to finish the task at hand. In this issue of Focus on Fatigue we’ll look at how useful low-level exercise can be in assisting shift workers to maintain alertness and concentration during their shift.

The FRMS Team



InterDynamics Pty Ltd
320 Adelaide Street Brisbane Qld 4000
Tel +61 7 3229 8300

Views expressed in articles and links provided are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of InterDynamics (except where directly attributed).


Exercising on the Job

Every shift worker knows what it’s like to experience moments of fatigue in the workplace. These moments can be caused by issues such as sleep deprivation, working at odd hours, or by the need to complete monotonous tasks for a long period of time. A variety of behaviours have proved effective at reducing fatigue, including strategic napping, exposure to bright light, and eating a healthy snack. Another behaviour which can be useful is low-level exercise. While this topic has not received extensive research attention, several studies have shed light on how exercise at work can be used by night shift workers.

Sato and his colleagues (2010) conducted a study in which participants worked between the hours of 10pm and 8am. They performed tasks requiring sustained attention while sitting down. The participants were separated into two groups, those who spent three minutes exercising for each hour of work, and those who did not exercise at all. It was found that the exercisers performed their work better than those who did not exercise. This was true even though the exercisers felt just as fatigued and sleepy as the non-exercisers.

Another study examined the ability of young people to stay awake for up to 31 hours using varying degrees of physical activity. Simply being spoken to (no physical activity) was the least effective, followed by sitting up and then standing up. Wakefulness was enhanced most by standing and doing knee bends. Therefore, the more intense the level of activity, the more effective it was in helping participants maintain wakefulness.

It is, of course, important for individuals to assess what sort of activity is most helpful for them based on the type of work they do. Indeed, the inclusion of low-level exercise may be most helpful for those performing sedentary tasks, but less useful for shift workers who already move around while working.

What kind of exercises help?

The exercises performed by the participants of the Sato study were as follows:

  • Neck twisting – turning head from side to side;
  • Arm swinging – swinging outstretched arms around in circles;
  • Leaning backwards and forwards – bending at the waist;
  • Twisting the torso – lift arms up and bend at waist to one side, then the other;
  • Bending and stretching the knees – squatting and standing;
  • Side stretching the legs – squat down on one knee and stretch other leg straight out to the side;
  • Stretching the lower legs – stretch one straight leg out behind and bend front knee till a stretch is felt in the back leg;
  • Spreading the legs – lunging squats; and
  • Deep breathing – done while standing tall.

Each exercise was performed for approximately 20 seconds and was designed to be performed in a small space (within a radius of 1.5m).


  • Bonnet, M. H. and Arand, D. L. (1999) Level of arousal and the ability to maintain wakefulness. Journal of Sleep Research, 8, 247-254.
  • Sato, T., Kubo, T., Ebara, T., Takeyama, H., Inoue, T., Iwanishi, M., Tachi, N., Itani, T. and Kamijima, M. (2010) Brief hourly exercise during night work can help maintain workers’ performance. Industrial Health, 48, 470-477.


In the News

Provided below are a selection of articles from around the web on the issues associated with fatigue. We hope you find them useful and interesting.

Article: A sleep doctor’s No. 1 tip for a great rest every night

Dr Michael J. Breus, MindBodyGreen (1 January 2018)

As a board-certified sleep specialist, I could share a copious amount of advice to enhance your sleep; however, if you choose only one thing to improve, make it getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise.

Video: How exercise rewires your brain

Seeker, YouTube (9 July 2013)

Everyone knows exercise is good for your health, but new studies show it does more than flatten those abs– it physically alters your brain to better handle stress! Anthony shows us this hidden, and hugely beneficial impact of working out.

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