Boost employee productivity through physical activity at work

Being physically fit should not be exclusive. It isn’t as though spaces are reserved for those who choose to describe themselves as ‘gym bunnies’ or ‘fitness fanatics’. Physical activity is actually something which is open to everyone and participation will benefit both our physical health and mental wellbeing. However, perhaps we should define physical activity in its broadest sense, in which people engage as much or as little as they want to, or indeed are able to.

Although to some extent the terms physical activity and exercise are used interchangeably, there is a difference between the two. Exercise is an activity which requires physical effort, it is carried out on purpose to sustain or improve health and fitness. Physical activities are small steps which can be incorporated into your daily life to improve your general health and fitness, such as taking the stairs as opposed to the lift. Although we can incorporate physical activities into all aspects of our lives, they particularly lend themselves to a workplace environment, in which swapping old habits for positive changes can make a significant difference. Since most full time workers spend a large proportion of their day in work, the workplace can therefore be influential in the amount of physical activity and exercise individuals incorporate into their lives.

In terms of exercise, the type and the intensity are completely dependent on the personal preference of the individual. However, regardless of whether the individual chooses to take steps through the use of gym memberships, attending lunchtime fitness classes or joining a running club, all contribute positively to a healthier and balanced lifestyle. It is however, the physical activity which can be easily incorporated into work routines which are equally significant, but are all too often forgotten. With this in mind, it is essential to raise awareness of easy steps employees can take to add more physical activity into their day, such as walking meetings, taking the stairs and walking to a colleague’s desk as opposed to sending them an email. All of these small changes can make an important difference to our physical health and mental wellbeing.

To address this challenge, many organisations are taking practical steps to improve the amount of physical activity during the day. This can take the form of introducing the availability of sit-stand workstations, either by changing the whole desk-unit or by introducing height adjustable table toppers. Alternatively organisations are investing in initiatives such as StepJockey to encourage their employees to use the stairs and track the amount of calories they burn.

There has been a significant shift in recent years in which employers have started to take an active interest in the health and wellbeing of their employees. This is due to the resounding evidence that supports a strong business case, which demonstrates positive returns on investment in staff engagement, loyalty and productivity. Employers are increasingly interested in the physical activity of their staff as employees who engage in such activities tend to be more alert and have higher levels of productivity. In addition, as workplace culture is continuing to shift towards becoming more target-orientated in an effort to cut down on presenteeism, providing increasingly flexible options for employees are gaining sufficient rewards in staff engagement and retention.

In recent years physical activity and exercise have been increasingly linked to a positive mental outlook. It has even been suggested that exercise can even help combat depression and anxiety, as it can cause chemical changes in the brain which positively alter our mood. In addition, exercise is linked to a greater sense of self-esteem, self-control and the ability to rise to any challenge.

The benefits of exercise and physical activity cannot be overstated. They are both positive for physical health, mental wellbeing and resilience. The key to establishing meaningful and long-lasting change is to make simple changes, which are as easy and as convenient to access as possible.

Rebecca Abrahams

Wellbeing Project Officer HR @Rebeccabrahams