With the current restrictions and social distancing measures in place to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, gyms, corporate gyms, personal training businesses, yoga studios and sport centres all had to close across the country. Many of your employees, especially the ones who are now working from home have been greatly affected by these changes as they can no longer continue to follow their usual exercise routines.
Staying at home has also made it easier to form unhealthy habits with many of your employees sitting down at a desk for longer periods of time. If you add on top of all this possible new daily routines (eg. caring form home schooled kids), it is easy to understand why it has become more challenging for most to find time to exercise.
So, as a progressive employer with a strong health culture, what can you do to support your employees to find new ways to maintain their physical health through this confinement (and by association their mental wellbeing).
We will explore further below a few tips about how you can help your workforce stay fit and healthy, but first here is a quick reminder about the importance of staying physically active in the current context.
Physical exercise and mental health
Not exercising can have a negative effect on the body, but it can also take a toll on the mental health of even the most resilient mind. Why? Physical activity is one of the best “mood booster” and during stressful times it helps keep our mind clear and focussed.
Anyone who partakes in regular physical activities will be familiar with the release of endorphins and the positive psychological state that follows post workout.
Exercise has been shown to provide many mental health benefits, from improving memory and sleep, to distracting our mind from negative thoughts and even preventing depressions. So it is a “no-brainer” – you need to keep your employees moving to help them cope better with these challenging times and avoid psychological ill-health.
Physical exercise and the immune system
Having a strong immune system is important to stay healthy, especially during a pandemic. Well, research has shown that exercise can help support a healthy immune system less susceptible to infections. Exercise also helps prevent weight gain, improves sleep and supports heart and lung functions, two key organs contributing to a healthy immune system.
However, improper exercising (too strenuous or not adapted to you) can also have a negative effect on the immune system, so it is always recommended to follow the advice of a professional (a virtual coach is a great alternative for remote workers).
The social aspect of exercising
Many of your employees would be participating in team sports or even individual activities done in groups to benefit from the social connections. It is often one of the main ways for them to stay connected with others and with the community providing them with familiarity and support. Not having regular access to these groups nowadays could further exacerbate a sense of isolation.
Exercise is critical to our wellbeing – but how much?
Let’s start with the good news – you don’t have to exercise for long to start getting benefits from it. Even an hour a week can make a difference.
Now, if we look at the guidelines from the World Health Organization the recommended amount of physical activity for a healthy adult is to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity throughout the week. It is also recommended to do muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week.
Here are a few tips to help your employees prioritise physical exercise
1. Carve out a space at home
While for most people, it is not possible to setup a full fitness studio at home, it is still possible to find a dedicated space to exercise from. Like with a workspace, it is important for your working from home staff to be well setup, comfortable (temperature, natural light, air) and safe (no tripping or electrical hazards). The only things they will need are a bit of space, possibly a yoga matt or a skipping rope, some music and access to a computer or a tablet if they want to participate in virtual exercise classes.
2. Keep a routine and set some goals
Sticking to an exercise routine is challenging at the best of times but it is even harder during a confinement with new pressures and distractions. Whether it is at lunch time, in the morning before the family is up or later in the evening, it is important for your employees to establish a clear routine. We recommend scheduling their exercise time in your calendar like you would a meeting to help you prioritise it.
3. Promote from the top
You should actively promote and encourage your employees to prioritise their health during these challenging times. Your staff should feel comfortable taking some time every day to exercise and there are no better ways to do so than by having your senior leaders “walk the walk” sharing their health routines or showing up on some of the virtual classes (or at a minimum endorsing them).
4. Organise a virtual team challenge
These challenges can not only promote regular physical activity, but they can also help improve connectedness and team cohesion. Our Fit 24 Team Challenge for example is a fun month-long challenge where teams of 7 compete to achieve physical, sleep and nutrition goals to earn points. Nothing like a good dose of healthy competition.
5. Get the whole family involved
Creating an effective family routine when homebound could be the difference between staying fit and healthy and staying on the sofa. Being active with kids can also be really fun as they have endless amount of energy and ideas to keep you moving. Your people could also use that “pester power” to their advantage. Their kids could soon become their best asset to keep them motivated and accountable. And they shouldn’t forget about the four-legged members of their family. More walks around the neighbourhood or active play time at home could also mean staying fit together.
6. Take regular breaks throughout the day to stand up and stretch
Without having access to a standing desk at home, a lot of your employees will be spending more time than usual sitting down. They should aim to interrupt sitting every hour (we recommend setting up an alarm on your phone / computer as a reminder), stand up for a few minutes and do a few stretches. They should also consider taking phone calls and performing activities not requiring a screen or a keyboard while standing.
7. What about offering your team live virtual exercise classes?
Virtual exercise classes are a great way to keep your employees motivated and on track with their physical health goals. They don’t require any specific equipment and are very easy to setup. They also allow your employees to have access to a professional instructor and get them to interact with other people in a fun way. Vitality Works offers a wide range of classes via video conference (at all levels) from H.I.I.T classes to Yoga and Pilates.
Although social distancing has made easier for your employees to develop sedentary habits and harder for them to exercise, there are still plenty of opportunities for responsible employers to support their team to remain physically and mentally fit and better equipped to cope with the challenges ahead.
From virtual coaches to online team challenges and virtual cooking demonstrations, we have over a decade experience in reducing staff injuries, improving connectedness and productivity, and fostering healthy and mentally supportive cultures. Get in contact if we can help you and your employees navigate through these unprecedented times.
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