Let’s be honest, we could all probably do with moving a bit more and sitting on the sofa a bit less. But with all of the stresses of modern life (work, work, work, work, work being a large one) getting down to the gym for the NHS recommended (1) 75 minutes of vigorous, aerobic exercise a week can seem like an impossible task.
So how good would it be if we could firmly embrace the ‘two birds, one stone’ metaphor and exercise while we were at work? Unless you’re a professional athlete or a personal trainer, you might think this sounds a little far fetched, but some companies are starting to recognise the benefits of allowing exercise at work for both their employees and their bottom lines. Whist we all know the personal benefits of exercising (and eating healthily – but that’s a matter for another day and another blog), such as healthier hearts and lungs, release of endorphins and a longer life, many of us might be unaware of how beneficial exercise at work can be for employers and the economy.
A recent study by Leeds Metropolitan University (2) found that exercise during regular work hours can boost employee’s performance. The study examined the influence of daytime exercise among office workers with access to a company gym. Many of us would love the convenience of free weights or a yoga studio at the office. But does using these amenities actually make a difference? Within the study, the 200+ employees at a variety of companies were asked to self-report their performance and, you guessed it, on days when employees visited the gym their experience at work changed. They reported managing their time more efficiently, being more productive and getting on better with colleagues. Just as important: they went home feeling more satisfied at the end of the day. When we use time at work for exercise, it becomes easier to manage the work-life balance, because work outs aren’t squeezed into already busy personal/family time.
But the benefits don’t end here; studies have found that active employees take fewer sick days and bring more energy to work. A 2011 study (3) found that incorporating just 2.5 hours of exercise into the working week led to a noticeable reduction in absences. Also, fit and healthy workers are less prone to preventable, debilitating illnesses – such as heart disease, diabetes etc – that take such a heavy toll on families and society.
Regular exercise has also been shown to elevate mood, which is good for work. Being in a good mood at work has a great impact on our work performance – I’m willing to bet that your job requires you to build connections, and being irritable is not going to aid this. Additionally, people are generally more likely to exercise when they make it a group activity. Ask any frequent gym go-er and it’s likely they have handful of people they will go to the gym or a class with on a semi-regular basis. Socialising makes exercise more fun and is also a great way to make relationships. When we bring this into the work environment, exercise can be used by managers as way to encourage good relationships between co-workers and to make everyone feel chirpier. Win win.
I’m sure many of you are reading this thinking: "Sounds great, but what about the time lost at work spent exercising?". Well, due to the increase in productivity exercise allows for, it is unlikely that taking an hour out of the working day a couple of times a week is going to result in lower productivity. Unless you’re training for a marathon during working hours, taking some time to exercise at work is likely going to result in productivity gains for the company and make you happier. Win win (again, are you spotting a theme?).
This is all good news for employees and employers. So how can we make exercise at work a reality? If you work as part of a large company, then a corporate gym membership might be something open to you. If this is the case, then it’s just a case of management making the decision to allow employees to head to their gym during working hours. If your company is smaller, then something as simple as allowing employees to go for a jog during the working day, or get a group together in the breakroom for a workout DVD could be the answer. Bringing exercise to work could be easier than you think.
Regardless of how you go about incorporating exercise into your routine, reframing it as part of your job makes it a lot easier to make time for it. Remember, you’re not abandoning work. In fact, you’re doing quite the opposite: you’re ensuring that the hours you put in have value.
So maybe it’s time you had a chat with your manager to see if you can hit the gym whilst on the clock? The challenge we now face is getting managers to understand and appreciate the benefits of exercise at work. Who knows, passing this blog along to your co-workers might be the first step…