Introducing organic exercise at work

by Nick Hudson, Head of Physical Activity

What’s the number one reason your employees give for not taking part in physical activity? Yes, you guessed it: There’s not enough time. You may have tried to argue along the lines of “If you really wanted to, you’d make time,” but I doubt you’ll have ever won that argument (I never have!). Let’s not beat about the bush. It’s true that some people just don’t like structured exercise…but you also know that a physically active workforce is healthier, happier and more engaged, so what can you do?

If you haven’t already, it’s time to introduce organic exercise to your staff. It’s an approachable way to talk about improving employee wellbeing at work. But to understand its importance, we need to take a look at some trends.

First, how did your workforce move 100 years ago?
Not so many years ago, our jobs involved much more physical activity (think about farming and factory work 100 years ago which were both far more manual than they are today) which satisfied our needs for calorie expenditure and musculoskeletal health. Back then, the work itself  was usually good exercise and provided a ‘no excuses’ mentality for better wellbeing – if you weren’t exercising, you weren’t doing your job.

People usually worked close to home and didn’t have their own motorised transport so did far more commuting on foot, so travelling to and from work was also good exercise.

Even if the person did no other physical activity besides their daily commute and work itself, they had likely been “on the go” for 10 hours or more per day. Your workforce 100 years ago satisfied their physical activity needs in an unplanned way without the need to focus on ‘structured’ exercise as an additional component of their working day.

Now, how does your workforce move today?
Compare this scenario with what you see today. A large percentage of people work in roles which require little or no physical output to be effective and today, at least in the UK,employees sit for five hours 41 mins per day at work (and 10 hours per day in total) and commute by car or public transport (not on foot) for an average of one hour and 38 minutes (Moovit, 2015).

Today’s workers are far less likely to achieve their exercise needs through the natural process of going about their daily life.

Plus, a recent British Heart Foundation study showed over 20 million Brits to be physically inactive, not achieving 150 mins of moderate physical activity per week.

So is it any surprise that of the people who are considered physically active, many of them satisfy their exercise/activity goals with the help of concepts unheard of 100 years ago such as gyms, boot camps and boutique studios?

So what can you do?
Consider the opportunities you and your employees have to be more active throughout your working day: if you’re someone who describes themselves as not liking exercise, you may find you’re able to achieve all your activity needs by being smarter about how you get moving without the need to join a fitness facility. A good way to kick off an employee wellbeing initiative is to assess your workforce – simply ask them:

On a scale of one-10 (with 10 being the highest) how would you describe your current state of wellbeing?

Once you have these benchmarks, you can survey your employees again post-initiative to see how the initiative has impacted your people. In the meantime, here’s what you can tell your staff.

Try to get up from your seat for a few minutes every 20-30 minutes during the day: even if all you do is go to speak to a colleague, make a cup of tea or stand to take a phone call, you’ll not only help to reduce the health risks we spoke about earlier, you’ll also improve your focus on the job at hand when you return to your seat. Even for the ‘non exerciser’ this is healthier than being a weekend warrior who crams all their activity into a couple of days.

Whenever you see a lift or elevator, take the stairs instead! Rarely will your journey take you longer than it would have done by the lift assuming you don’t have to travel more than a few floors (Okay, if you work in the Empire State Building, we’ll let you go for a jog at lunchtime instead). Oh, and whenever you see an escalator, walk up it: that’s always quicker than letting it do all the work for you.

Think about how  you commute to work. Could you walk, run or cycle to work instead? If you live 30 miles from work, could you do this for just some of your journey? Walking 30 minutes on both legs of your commute can easily give you an additional 5,000 steps per day: that’s half of your daily minimum right there!

Finally, is there any exercise you currently do inside that can also be done outside instead? If so, then start doing it. Even if the sun’s not shining, outdoor exercise has been proven to reduce tension, confusion while at the same time increasing energy and positive engagement. It doesn’t just have to be running or cycling either: body weight strength workouts can be done anywhere with a bit of space (and it doesn’t get much more organic than just using your own body weight).

Can you have any of your meetings as standing (or even walking) meetings? For less formal one-to-one and formal meetings (perhaps where you don’t need to take copious notes!), take the opportunity to get moving more. An often-forgotten benefit of standing and walking is the increase in blood flow to the brain, meaning an improvement in mental function and clarity of thinking: stand up and get smart.

Making a committment to improving employee wellbeing at work doesn't have to be labor-intensive, it can be as simple as communicating these small ways to change daily habits. If you're looking for a wellbeing solution for your workforce, we can help you understand how to promote your initiatives through an employee engagement platform and (for our UK clients) offer great discounts to a variety of physical fitness activities, too.