The benefits of investing in physical activity in the workplace

More and more organisations are putting a focus on, and investing in promoting physical activity and exercise (either individual or in teams) as part of the working day. Employees, whether they are working from home of from an office space are spending more and more time at work driving sedentary behaviours. Ensuring employees have enough physical activity everyday and are physically fit can have a wide variety of benefits to both the individual and the bottom-line, from increased productivity to reduced stress and anxiety.

 

Is physical inactivity an issue?

The human body was simply not built for a sedentary lifestyle. From our skeletal structure, to our muscles, joints, blood and respiratory systems, humans were clearly “designed” to move. Our sedentary lifestyle is becoming a real public health issue and has also been linked to many chronic health conditions, including obesity, anxiety, diabetes and heart disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that physical inactivity constitutes the fourth leading cause of death globally, related to over 3.2 million deaths every year around the world. 

 

Physical activity is defined by the WHO as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that require energy expenditure”. To achieve health benefits, the WHO recommends that healthy adults aged 18-64 should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity every week.

 

In today’s society, it is not hard to understand why achieving these guidelines could be a challenge as most of our waking hours are spent at work sitting at a desk or crouched over a computer. In fact, research suggests that only 21% of adults meet the 150 minutes of weekly activity guidelines.

 

Employers have a great opportunity to play an active role in incorporating and promoting physical activity opportunities for all employees while in the workplace.

 

Investing into physical activity is good for health and for business

Physical activity is essential for good overall health and has be shown to have many specific health benefits, both physical and mental. Physically active employees tend to have stronger immune systems, are more focussed and productive, have a more positive attitude and can cope better with stressful situations (this is in part due to the endorphins released by the body during exercise).

It can also help:

   – improve mental functioning

   – lower blood pressure

   –  provide higher quality of sleep

   – maintain a healthy weight and control body fat

   – manage stress

   – improve cardio-respiratory functioning

   – increase muscular strength and endurance and reduce chances of injuries

   – reduce risk of developing illnesses such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes

 

So, we know there are clear benefits for people, but there are also huge upsides for businesses It is in the interest of any organisation to have a fit and physically healthy workforce. Research has shown that employees who get at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week miss an average of 4.1 fewer days of work per year.

Having physically active employees can lead to:

   – reduced sickness and sick days (reduce absenteeism)

   – improved productivity, performance and morale

   – lower employee turnover

   – improved creativity and problem solving

   – reduced workers’ compensation costs

   – decrease work related stress

   – increase team building amongst employees

   – decrease employee presenteeism

   – the creation of a health culture

 

 

7 things employers can do to promote physical activity at work

Employers have the opportunity to encourage their people to increase the amount of physical activity they do at work by focusing on a combination of “individual” (awareness, knowledge, behaviour) and “environmental” (facilities, technologies, policies) strategies.

 You can encourage and promote increased levels of physical activity in a number of ways:

   – Develop policies to allow staff to have more flexible working hours. Starting later, finishing earlier, having a longer lunch break could be the difference between your employees being able to fit in some physical activity or not – so it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

 

   – Standing or walking meetings – If the global pandemic has taught us anything is that more can be done remotely, including meetings. Encourage your managers and employees to implement more “walk and talk” meetings either in person or on the phone.

 

   – Offer facilities that make it more visible and easier for your employees to engage in physical activities. The obvious one is an in-house gym and shower facilities, but this could be cost prohibitive from small to medium companies. A good alternative is to offer corporate gym memberships at a discounted rate.

 

   – Offering secure bike storage facilities could also encourage more employees to cycle to work. Even better, this could be combined with a company-wide event “cycle to work day or week”.

 

   – Office / Team activity challenges and lunchtime walk or run clubs – These are fantastic and easy to implement initiatives leveraging some technologies and step trackers and also give employees the chance to get together. More on that in the next section.

 

   – Stand up desks – It has been said that sitting down is as bad for our health as is not doing any physical activity. It encourages better posture and more frequent breaks and stretches.

 

   – Education – while this might seem over simplistic, highlighting the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle and an informative and non-threatening way may encourage more movement for the right reasons. 

 

 

Walking – an activity accessible to all that can also reinforce relationships

The first benefit of walking is simply that it “works”. Studies have shown that the energy used for moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running resulted in similar reductions in risk factors for cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It has also been proven to have some mental health benefits like improved mood, cognitive functions, focus and creativity.

On top of all these health benefits, walking is possibly one of the most inclusive physical activities. It is low impact, ideal for any fitness and commitment level, requires no specific skills or equipment outside of proper footwear and is non-threatening (accessible to every employees). It can finally be performed at any time of the day and can be done at different pace and intensity.

Even with all these amazing upsides, it can be difficult to encourage and motivate people to go out for a walk. This is where a well-designed step challenge can be a great investment. Leveraging technology and human behaviour science, these challenges are fun and help motivate your staff. Nothing encourages activity quite like healthy competition. As importantly these team challenges can help to improve team cohesion and create a sense of connectedness (so important to combat the isolation felt by so many working remotely).

 

Take a look at our official 10,000 steps team challenge. You can choose between an African safari map, a walk on the Inca trail, or best even, you can create your own map. Which one will you choose?

 

So if you haven’t done so already, it is time for you and your organisation to start focusing on promoting more physical activity in the workplace. Your people will thank you for it, but your business will also rip many rewards.

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