This week, we’re looking at exercise and activity in the office! Health and fitness has well and truly made its way into the mainstream in recent years, with more people than ever hitting the gym and making changes to their lifestyle in the pursuit of a healthier body. Read on for some of Andy‘s thoughts and advice on how to fit physical activity into your workday, and feel better doing it!

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll probably have noticed that we’ve mentioned physical activity in the office quite a lot. Health and wellbeing is one of the most fundamental parts of nearly everything a person can do, so it’s little surprise that it’s such a feature in a blog that’s all about maximising productivity.

In a 2013 survey by Mind, 60% of UK workers said that they’d feel more motivated if their employer took more action to promote their health and mental wellbeing – so this week we’ve given over a whole blog post to the importance of staying active in the workplace, and put together some ideas to help both employees and employers to feel healthier at work!

The Benefits of Being Active

Regular exercise comes with a whole host of benefits, both for you and your employer. Productivity, job satisfaction, mental and physical health, and even social interaction are all proven to be improved by regular physical activity – and, as we’ve mentioned in an earlier blog, happier workers are more productive workers!

Back pain is the most commonly cited cause of absence for people taking sick leave in the UK, with work related stress and anxiety coming in at a close second – at an estimated combined cost of around £10 billion in lost revenue each year.

We’ve talked before about the importance of having an ergonomically considered workstation to take as much strain away from the body as possible – but an equally important consideration is being active, which will strengthen key support muscles like the lower back and greatly reduce the chance of injury from spending hours at a time behind a desk.

Physically activity will also release endorphins, improving mood and reducing stress – but also increasing alertness and focus, making it easier to stay on task and remain productive on those days when your brain starts fogging up as the afternoon progresses. It might sound counter-intuitive, but expending effort on exercise will actually give you more energy afterwards and help stay energised through even the more boring tasks.

Active employees also tend to take far fewer sick days and are back at work sooner than those who are more sedentary, minimising the time and revenue that would otherwise be lost over the course of a year.

What Constitutes Being Active?

Ironically, many people feel that they can’t fit in regular, daily exercise because of the all-consuming demands on our time from working life. The modern world moves quickly, which is why it’s all the more important to find activities or a routine that fits in with your existing time commitments.

An approach that’s become immensely popular in recent years has been to try and reach 10,000 steps a day – popularised by the FitBit, and the ever-expanding world of personal fitness trackers. The idea is perfectly sound – achieving 10,000 steps is an attainable goal that doesn’t require major deviation from the average person’s regular routine, aside from a consciously doing bit more walking here and there.

However, growing evidence now suggests that this kind of activity isn’t quite as effective as you might think. The problem with counting steps is that walking as your primary source of exercise is, generally speaking, a relatively low intensity activity – we don’t tend to get out of breath when walking, and heart rate doesn’t usually significantly change over the duration.

It’s this effect on heart rate that is the most valuable aspect of physical activity. Spending 10 minutes or so doing something active that will cause your heart to beat faster will have a much more pronounced impact in improving circulation, boosting your metabolism, helping to prevent anxiety or depression, and greatly improving wakefulness.

Ideally, the average adult is best served by spending roughly 150 minutes a week – which is only a little over 20 minutes a day – doing something with a high enough intensity to increase heart rate.

That’s not to say that going for a stroll around the office floor every hour or so is useless – far from it; even just getting up and stretching will boost circulation and contribute to all of the positives we’ve mentioned so far. Something as seemingly insignificant as getting up and putting the kettle on can have a surprisingly noticeable impact on our bodies, especially for the parts most affected by sitting, like our legs and back. Even better is if you can get outside for your stroll, as the natural light combined with the act of walking has been shown to boost creativity and problem-solving when you return to your desk, compared with just walking or being outside alone.

How to Incorporate Activity into the Workplace

Making physical activity something that you can share with others is a great way to get more people involved, strengthening the team dynamic and helping to keep everyone more alert and productive.

Research shows that having company for physical activity also increases the amount of endorphins released, creating a heightened sense of shared euphoria and an increased pain threshold when compared with doing the exact same activity alone, and having other people feature in your routine is one of the best ways to make it stick – on the days where you just really aren’t feeling like going to the gym, or the weather isn’t looking great so you aren’t so keen to go out for a run, sometimes having another person who’d be let down if you pull out of a session can be just the kind of guilt-fueled motivation you need to stay on track!

There are countless ways to get people involved and participating – having an office-wide yoga session after work once a week, or an inter-department football tournament in the summer, or even something as uncomplicated as going for a run before or after work with some of the co-workers you get on with best.

As an employer, offering incentives or rewards can also help encourage the less physically-inclined among your staff to get on board with being more active. Gamifying exercise with things like a leaderboard for who clocked the most miles on the office gym rowing machine each week can also be a great, low-pressure way to promote friendly competition, galvanising people to hit that 150 minutes worth of more intense activity a week.

Well, once again that’s it from me this week! Hopefully you’ll feel a little more inclined to fit in a little activity around the office, even if it’s just to walk to the other side of the room and back.

Have a great, healthy week at work – and we’ll see you next week!

Join us next week for Part 4 of ‘Be Better at the Basics’!

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