When it comes to attitudes toward exercise, there's little ambivalence.

There's the stance of cartoonist Paul Terry – creator of Superman's anthropomorphic equivalent, Mighty Mouse – who said, "Whenever I feel the need to exercise, I lie down until it goes away."

Then there's the approach of one of America's most famous authors, Henry David Thoreau, who wrote, "An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day."

Current research conducted by faculty from Saint Leo's Donald R. Tapia School of Business and led by Dr. Russell Clayton, assistant professor of management, supports the latter: Exercise increases your ability to manage, balance and integrate your personal and professional lives.

Running to relieve stress leads to research on life balance

While the complete research will be published in a forthcoming issue of Human Resource Management, Dr. Clayton summarized the group's findings on a recent Harvard Business Review blog post.

Dr. Clayton wrote that after surveying a population of working adults, he and his colleagues determined that respondents who reported regular exercise were less likely to experience conflict between their work and home roles.

Dr. Clayton is the first to admit that his research findings seem counterintuitive. How could adding one more thing to an already busy schedule actually help resolve work/home tradeoffs?

Long before conducting any disciplined research, Dr. Clayton had found the answer in his own life. He was going through a particularly stressful period as a full-time Ph.D. student studying for his comprehensive exams. He was spending so much time studying at school that he started neglecting his home life.

"That's when I found running," he says. "I started running to simply reduce stress, but the end result of being able to manage my work and home life was great!"

That experience led Dr. Clayton to look at the issue from an academic perspective. Collecting data from 476 working adults and running the statistics confirmed what he had already been experiencing in his personal life: exercise helped his work-life balance.

Below, Dr. Clayton answers some questions on why exercise improves work-life balance and how it applies to busy working adults who are also pursuing their college degrees.

Why does exercise help working adults better manage the demands of work and family life?

Dr. Clayton: Our research led to two paths through which exercise helps us do a better job of managing work and home. First, we all know that exercise reduces stress. But there's also an increase in self-efficacy, or our sense of being able to get things done.

For example, take a mother who is working and also enrolled in online classes. Our research suggests that her confidence in her ability to handle all that's going on in her life is likely to increase if she goes for a run early in the morning or goes to Zumba classes after work. This confidence in handling problems can be helpful when dealing with a challenging co-worker, a sick child, or even a tough assignment online.

Do adult students experience unique challenges when it comes to life balance?

Dr. Clayton: Absolutely. Working adults taking classes online or on-ground are tossing a third variable into the mix of home and work – school. Thus, their juggling act is even tougher. Plus, even though online students are often physically present at home, they have to be mentally focused on class. That can be challenging.

How can your findings about exercise and life balance be applied to adult students?

Dr. Clayton: If you're a working adult with a family – and you're working on your college degree – it's all the more important for you to be confident in your ability to do something since you have an additional role creating more 'stuff' going on in your life.

Self-efficacy can be applied in almost any area of life, including school. In the same way that that working mom has to persist through her run or Zumba workout, she must persist through the paper she is writing for school.

So I'm ready to start exercising. How quickly can I expect results?

Dr. Clayton: Many times even a single exercise session comes with a sense of mastery. There's some target we're trying to hit. Maybe it's to run 3 miles, complete the 45-minute yoga session, lift 100 pounds 10 times, etc. When a student completes or masters that 3-mile run, then she may feel like she can complete that reading assignment. This "I-can-do-this" effect spans across all the different roles she has in her life: employee, mother and student.

Any suggestions on how to integrate exercise into an already busy day?

Dr. Clayton: Some people have the misconception that they must go to a fancy gym and do a structured routine in order to exercise. And then they never do it because it takes a lot of time to drive to a gym, exercise, and then drive back home.

My suggestion is to consult a physician and start simple.

Go for a 20-minute walk or jog after work before starting any online school work. Or wake up 45 minutes earlier than normal, have a cup of coffee, then go for a 20-30 minute walk or jog. Try doing bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, and air squats at home. They require no equipment and can get your heart rate up and get you going.

Plus, all of this is free, which is a big benefit when you're watching your finances because you're paying tuition.

Will this type of exercise turn you into an Olympic athlete? Certainly not. But it can help in providing stress relief and increasing self-efficacy, which will help you better balance work, family and school.

Do you find that exercising helps you find better balance in your life?

Other posts you may be interested in reading:

Working Parents: We Salute You!

Online Learning: One Working Mom's Success Story

Online Adult Learner, Caregiver Eyes Rewarding Healthcare Career

For Online Learners: 3 Ways to Separate Your Education & Personal Life

Image Credit: Ludie Cochrane