a young woman exercising on a matIn a super-connected world where mobile devices and email make it possible for work to bleed into the rest of the day, how can people possibly achieve work-life balance? While there is no golden ratio, researchers have found that regular exercise, known to reduce stress, can help people keep their work and home lives separate.

Building on the body of research demonstrating that exercise reduces stress, researchers working in a collaboration between Saint Leo University, Saint Louis University, University of Houston – Victoria, and Illinois State University asked whether exercise helped people cope with work-life conflicts. They focused on work interference with family is—when someone shifts his or her focus to work while engaged in family or home activities—and family interference with work, which is family matters intruding on work time.

For this study, researchers evaluated survey responses from 476 working adults. The survey included questions about exercise behavior like “I exercise more than three days a week” and asked respondents to use a four-point scale to agree or disagree. Then, respondents answered questions about their confidence in managing work-family conflicts using a seven-point scale.

The results suggest that exercise supports a healthy work-life balance. Those who exercised regularly expressed more confidence in their abilities to regulate the divide between work and home and they were less stressed during work.

The researchers state that, “[T]he idea sounds counterintuitive. How is it that adding something else to our work day helps to alleviate stress and empower us to deal with work-family issues? We think exercise is a way to psychologically detach from work—you’re not there physically and you’re not thinking about it either—and, furthermore, it can help us feel good about ourselves.”

This research will be published in the journal Human Resource Management.

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