Exercise and work: why a fighting fit team pays off

Keeping fit doesn’t just keep workers healthier: motivating employees to integrate exercise and work helps slash sick days and boost productivity too.

Exercise and work: why a fighting fit team pays off. Picture shows a man sitting on the floor of a squash court, with a squash racket and a laptop on his lap.

In an office space, exercise might be the last thing on your mind.

While 80 percent of adults don’t exercise enough, it’s hard to get up and do anything about it when the weight of deadlines is pushing you back down into that plush office chair. But, a smattering of physical exercise across your weekly routine can make a life-changing difference to your work and your leisure time.

If you don’t give yourself and your employees the opportunity to exercise, you’re putting barriers in the way of a happier, healthier workforce.

Why bother?

Exercise and work. Picture shows woman struggling to reach her toes whilst stretching.

There are plenty of obvious reasons to exercise, whether that’s fighting fat or building fitness. In fact, as the Western lifestyle has become increasingly sedentary, we’ve learnt that physical exercise is actually an essential human need for maintaining good health.

Research has found again and again that keeping a regular schedule of physical activity provides instrumental benefits in all areas of life. Regular exercise not only makes us healthier, it boosts our energy levels during the day and helps us sleep at night; it even heightens our sex drive.

And the physical benefits are just half of the equation. In recent years, research has begun to focus on the effects of regular physical activity on our mental health as well.

As BrainHQ points out: physical exercise can improve brain cognition, aid brain growth and function as an anti-depressant. Research has even indicated that aerobic exercise can combat the effects of age-related memory loss, as well as acting as an active deterrent to the onset of Dementia.

So neglect exercise and you might be neglecting more than you might think.

Exercise and work don’t mix, do they?

Exercise and work - can they really mix? Four runners race to the finish line in smart business suits.

Exercise has been shown to improve work performance in children and studies on adults indicate the same results.

If you and your employees are all sat at desks all day, regular activity can lead to improved mood, energy and focus. Add to the list the improved alertness, mental health and illness prevention that everyone could benefit from, and exercising regularly becomes a sure-fire way to improve work productivity.

It’s no wonder Beijing officials have been reinforcing their mandatory calisthenics programme for years. Staying active might seem like a hobby that can be practiced alongside work, but we should really consider physical exercise an integral part of our working lives.

What can you do to help your employees?

Committing to regular physical activity can be easier said than done.

The NHS recommends that adults (aged between 19 and 64) need to do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, plus strength training on at least two days a week targeting the major muscle groups. That’s only about four hours out of a 168-hour week. Sounds easy enough.

But, take way 40 hours eaten up by the average work week and the 56 hours we (should) spend sleeping, and you only have 72 hours left to divide between eating, exercise and leisure time. When the choice is between relaxing after a hard day’s work or working out, the latter doesn’t sound so easy after all.

That’s why it’s so important for employers to make their workplace compatible with physical exercise. Ace Fitness have some great ideas to simply and effectively help your employees keep fit, such as:

  • Providing a bike rack and showers at work for active commuters
  • Scheduling lunchtime yoga sessions
  • Organising discounted membership for employees at the local gym

The benefits of regular physical activity have even convinced some employers – such as Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite – that it’s time we allow employees to exercise during the working day. Effectively paying employees to exercise might sound mad, but researchers at Stockholm University have found this approach yields greater productivity in employees and less sick days to boot.

Something for everyone

Exercise and work: Basketball game reflected in puddle.

Whether you decide to give your employees paid exercise time during the work day or not, it’s clearly a great idea to help them get active. But don’t think you can’t just stick a bike rack outside and expect immediate, positive results on employee productivity.

And while some employees might turn their office cubicle into their own gym, not everyone is brave enough to deskercise (‘The Flapper’ is a personal favourite for maximum embarrassment). If you are really committed to getting your employees motivated to keep fit, you need to provide your employees with options:

  • The buddy system. For some, lone workouts are the best way forward. The majority of people, however, find they can motivate themselves much better by partaking in group sports and activities. In fact, research has found that ‘synchronised activity’ heightens the mood lift that exercise produces, meaning people are more likely to enjoy group exercise and are also more likely to repeat it regularly.
  • Classes. It’s not for everyone, but some people feel they really benefit from having an expert at the front of the room to learn from. If you’re considering partly subsidising gym memberships for your employees, make sure to ask what classes are available.
  • Sports. Organising group sport is a great way to make exercise fun and it will also encourage a communal atmosphere amongst your employees. There are lots of easy ways to arrange them: try Toepoke for sorting out a regular kick-about or Classpass for finding fitness classes.
  • A change of environment. We’ve written before – on our sister-blog Articulate Marketing – how getting outside can aid creativity. For some people, a treadmill desk won’t scratch the itch: employees can really benefit from exercising outside, so make that an option for them by organising a jogging club or an outside yoga class.

Create a culture of keeping fit

‘Companies that sweat together, stay together’ says Ryan Holmes. If you can get your employees feeling the collective burn, you’re on your way to creating a healthier, happier and more productive workforce.

Exercise and work: Picture from a 1950's newspaper clipping entitled; 'Exercise with Gloria.'

When it comes to implementing a fitness-focused culture in your office, it pays to lead from the front. If you’re actively encouraging your employees to get out and get in shape, while you remain firmly in your own desk chair, they’re not exactly going to be inspired.

So get involved and get all of your employees on board with you. Make sure to ask your employees how they like to keep fit. Take continual inspiration from your workforce and together you can create an active company culture that lasts. If you or your employees have any examples that you think could help others implement their office fitness-drive, let everyone know in the comments below.

Remember, keeping fit is a marathon, not a sprint. Creating a culture of keeping fit will help your employees break through ‘the wall’ and make your business better for it.

Cue the original (and best) movie training montage:


Hat tip to Flickr users meridican and Kevin Dooley for their photos.

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