Is Physical Activity Before the End of the Workday a Drain or a Gain? Daily Implications on Work Focus in Regular Exercisers

Lieke L. ten Brummelhuis, Charles Calderwood, Christopher C. Rosen, Allison S. Gabriel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Although organizations increasingly offer wellness programs that enable employees to work out before or during work, it remains unknown what implications physical activity before or during the workday might have for work outcomes. Whereas a workout might be rewarding, especially for those who enjoy exercise, working out might also be draining, especially for those who are less intrinsically motivated to exercise. Integrating the Work–Home Resources model with self-determination theory, we develop and test theory which identifies how physical activity before the end of the workday might exert countervailing effects by impeding work focus through drained personal resources (i.e., ego depletion), while also improving work focus via enhanced personal resources (i.e., self-efficacy). We further theorized that motivation for exercise—whether it is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated—serves as a cross-level moderator of these relations. In a 5-day experience sampling study tracking 74 regularly exercising employees with Fitbit activity monitors, results indicated that physical activity was not significantly related to ego depletion. However, we found that light physical activity was positively related to self-efficacy and self-efficacy positively related to work focus (as rated by coworkers). Further, vigorous physical activity only resulted in better work focus among employees with an intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) motivation for exercise. Finally, moderate physical activity resulted in better work focus via self-efficacy among extrinsically motivated exercises, whereas this relation was negative for intrinsically motivated exercisers. Combined, our results highlight that physical activity can improve work focus when there is a match between physical activity intensity and exercise motivation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1864-1877
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Nov 4 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Exercise
  • Motivation
  • Personal resources
  • Physical activity
  • Self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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