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Encouraging physical exercise in the workplace

Posted by Ann Caluori | Tue, 08/06/2021 - 10:33


Author: Jennifer Yangley 


One in four employees in the UK report having a physical health condition, while one in five of those employees also report having a mental health condition, Public Health England reveals. Poor employee health negatively impacts productivity and business profits due to sickness and absence. Fortunately, by encouraging employees to be active throughout the work day, occupational health can help improve employee mental and physical health, and eliminate the health risks of sedentary lifestyles.


Combating excessive sitting

Brits spend as much as 8.9 hours every day sat in a chair. Sitting for long periods of time has a devastating impact on health. It increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, diabetes and obesity, as well as negatively impacting muscle mass and structure. Fortunately, standing desks are a great tool for occupational health to recommend in the workplace: they allow employees to stand comfortably while working, and avoid the health risks associated with too much sitting. Standing is great for health. Simply standing while completing an afternoon of sedentary work burns over 170 additional calories than sitting. Additionally, standing desks can improve mood and energy levels. Employees who used standing desks for a seven-week period reported being less stressed and tired than employees who sat all day.


Walking and stretching breaks

Meetings and workshops don’t have to only involve sitting around tables. Occupational health can suggest that employees take walking breaks to walk around in pairs or small groups while talking. In good weather, walking breaks can be held outdoors. In the beginning of the meeting or workshop, employees can also be encouraged to stand and do some light stretching. Stretching is important for improving posture, minimising strain on the spine and neck, and reducing back pain. Stretching can also improve flexibility, help employees relieve tension, and boost mood and productivity. Moreover, occupational health can suggest lunchtime walk clubs where employees walk for at least half an hour along a planned route. Employees can also be advised to dress in “fitness casual” to better enable physical activity throughout the day.


Group workouts

Regular exercise is vital for health, and group exercise, in particular, can be especially beneficial for employees. A study by the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine found that working out in a group offers stronger mental and physical benefits than solo workouts. In a group of 70 medical students and staff, group exercise was found to decrease stress by 26% and improve mental wellbeing by 12%, physical fitness by 24%, and emotional stability by 26%. In comparison, those who worked out alone only experienced an 11% boost in mental wellbeing. By helping implement workplace exercise programmes, occupational health can give employees an easy way to participate in physical exercise and help them reap the benefits of group workouts. 


Encouraging employees to stay active throughout the work day is a key responsibility for occupational health. Standing desks, walking and stretching breaks, and group workouts, in particular, can be implemented to improve mental and physical health and combat the health risks of sedentary lifestyles.


Photo by JP Lockwood on Unsplash.