Recent figures suggest more than 20 million people in the UK are physically inactive. With rates of obesity rising fast and this leading to a number of physical and mental health problems, experts are now asking: should exercise be compulsory at work?
Some companies have already embraced this. The social media platform website HootSuite, which has 700 employees, encourages staff to exercise before, during and after work hours in the on-site gym. The CEO of the company, Ryan Holmes commented:
“Exercise in the office isn’t a new idea. But it’s such a clear win in terms of health, morale and productivity. Yoga classes are packed before work, at lunch and after work. In the gym, volunteers from our company lead sweaty bootcamps and cross-training classes. Groups set out from our office for lunchtime runs and evening hikes. We have a hockey team and a road biking team and even a Quidditch team that does battle on broomsticks in the park.”
“I see employees return from workouts refreshed and better focused on their jobs. Time lost on exercise is made back and more in terms of improved productivity.”
One of the most common excuses for not partaking in exercise by Brits is lack of time because of work. With 60% of our day often spent in the office, the British Heart Foundation wants employers to make workplaces healthier establishments. They say that even if employers can’t offer staff an on-site gym or classes, they should still encourage employees to take a short active break during the day.
The government issued guidelines via NICE in 2015 on how promoting a culture that improves the health and wellbeing of employees is “good management and leads to healthy and productive workplaces.”
There is also an economic case for promoting exercise at work – healthy staff means fewer absences due to illness.
A study carried out by Bristol University showed that employees who can exercise at work are more productive, happy, efficient and calm. It was also found that exercise re-energised staff, improved their concentration and problem-solving and made them feel calmer.
Even if you can’t get to a gym, there are a number of great ways you can be more active during the working day. Walking or cycling to the bus or train station, standing on the train instead of sitting, taking the stairs instead of getting the lift, offering to do the tea run, walking around while on the phone or walking to a co-worker’s desk rather than emailing them.
What are the benefits of exercise on our mental health?
When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins. These endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body which makes us feel happier and more relaxed. Endorphins are also natural mood lifters that can help to keep depression and stress at bay as well as helping us to feel calmer and more optimistic.
While experts have long known the physical benefits of exercise, it’s only in recent years that psychologists have discovered that it can also be invaluable to our mental health.
When we’re physically active, our minds are distracted from daily stresses such as work and finances. Team sports in particular are known to provide us with the opportunity to unwind as well as engage in a challenge that improves our fitness. Group exercise sessions also provide social benefits because we can connect with others in a fun and relaxed environment.
Another benefit of exercising on a regular basis is that it can help to improve the quality of our sleep by helping us to fall asleep faster and fall into a deeper slumber. This in itself can be particularly helpful to our mental outlook as well as improve our mood.
Regular physical activity has also been found to help keep our key mental skills sharp. Research has found that doing a combination of aerobic and muscle strengthening activities is particularly helpful and three to five sessions a week is enough to provide noticeable benefits to our mental health.
If you think that you or someone you know could be struggling with a mental health problem, please feel free to contact Life Works in the strictest of confidence and we will be more than happy to help.