Should exercise be made compulsory for workers?
According to a recent report1 by the British Heart Foundation, more than 20 million workers in the UK are currently physically inactive. The charity has warned that this inactivity can lead to an increased risk of heart disease which in turn could cost the NHS an additional £1.2 billion a year. With people working longer hours and more and more jobs involving sitting at a desk, could incorporating exercise into the working day solve the problem?
The Government defines an inactive person as someone who does less than 2 and half hours of moderate activity each week (i.e fast walking, volleyball, basketball). They recommend that you complete 150 hours of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. Vigorous activity can include jogging, aerobics and hockey.
They also recommend some form of strength activity, such as lifting weights or yoga, twice a week. Despite the health benefits, with the working day getting longer and commutes increasing too, it can seem like finding the time to exercise is impossible. In fact, the main reason stated for inactivity in workers is lack of time, with women especially effected as they are reported to be 36% more likely to be inactive than men.
More than 27million working days were lost last year due to sickness, costing an estimated £13.4 billion.
A healthy workforce benefits employers too, as it reduces the likelihood of absences due to illness. More than 27 million working days were lost last year due to sickness, costing an estimated £13.4 billion. With 60% of the average day spent at work, it’s no wonder that the British Heart Foundation are turning to employers to initiate change.
Ryan Holmes, CEO of social media platform Hootsuite, recently argued for exercise incorporated into the working day which is paid for by employers in his article, ‘Why It’s Time We Paid Employees to Exercise at Work’i. He claims that “employees return from workouts refreshed and better focused on their jobs. Time lost on exercise is made back and more in terms of productivity.” His company has roughly 700 employees who are encouraged to exercise before, during or after working hours using the small on-site gym.
Of course, not every company can be like Hootsuite, or like Google, who first introduced office gyms as an employee perk, but there are other ways to help your employees get fit. For example, a policy which encourages employees to block off an hour to exercise during the day providing it doesn’t conflict with meetings and the time is made up, can be implemented easily.
Employee benefits packages could also offer discounted or free gym memberships, making it easier and more affordable for your employees to get fit.
There are more cost-effective ways to encourage active employees too. Advertising local lunchtime exercise classes can increase take up as can creating an exercise area for your employees to use during their lunch hour. The British Heart Foundation have also released a 10 minute workout video, designed to help employees to take a quick exercise break during the day.
Employers can also opt for more immediate ways to tackle inactivity at work. One way is to ban junk food from the office, as the custom of bringing in cake and chocolate can lead to obesity in employees as well as encouraging dental problems from excess sugar.
Instead, employers should encourage healthy snacks such as fruit and nuts. The key to reducing inactivity however might just be getting employees to stand up, with some employers going as far as to introduce standing or even treadmill desks.
The NHS choices website recommends breaking up long periods of sitting with short bursts of activity lasting one or two minutes. Seemingly small activities like walking to a further away kettle or up the stairs to your next meeting instead of getting the lift could make a real difference to your health.
Getting moving - 5 ways to beat inactivity
- Make the most of your commute - choose to stand instead of sit on the way to work, and if possible, get off a stop early and walk the remainder of the journey.
- Take the stairs - avoid escalators and lifts, instead choosing to walk up the stairs.
- Avoid email - instead of emailing or calling a colleague in the same building, walk over to their desk and speak face-to-face.
- Take calls on the move - instead of remaining glued to your desk during important calls, try standing or walking while on the phone.
- Take longer trips - multiple kitchens in your office? Try making your tea in another place. Plus, if you have multiple printers, you can try walking to a printer further away from the usual.