Physical Activity in the Workplace & How to Encourage It

Read all about how physical activity can improve workplace productivity and how you can encourage exercise in the office as an employer.

Being physically active on a daily basis can work wonders for improving health, both physical and mental. That’s nothing new and most of us are aware of it. We do our best to include physical exercise in our daily routines and there’s no doubt we feel better when we do. But did you know that physical activity can also have an impact on performance in the workplace?

The effects of physical activity in the workplace

Physical and mental health affect just about every aspect of our lives and performance in the workplace is no exception.

It will come as no surprise that poor health is directly associated with absence from work. 

In 2018, the Office of National Statistics estimated that UK employees took an average of 4.1 days off work, adding up to a total of 131 million working days lost due to sickness absence across the country. The same report found that the most common reasons for sickness absence include minor illness (27%), musculoskeletal problems such as arthritis (20%) and mental health issues including stress, depression and anxiety (12%), many of which have been associated with physical inactivity.

Of course, these physical and mental health issues can also have a pretty big impact on work productivity. A survey conducted by Public Health England found that 29% of UK employees suffer from a long-term health condition, and 42% of those say their condition affects their work at least to some extent.

There’s a wealth of evidence to suggest that physical activity can help improve employee health, in turn improving productivity in the workplace and reducing sickness absence. In fact, a study conducted by the British Heart Foundation in 2016 found that physical activity programs at work can reduce absenteeism by up to 20%, and that physically active workers take 27% fewer sick days.

So, how can we motivate employees to be more physically active?

Encouraging physical activity in the office

The reality is, finding time to exercise before or after work isn’t always possible. Most people lead busy lives outside of work too, often leaving very little time for physical activity.

The good news is, including just small amounts of light to moderate physical activity can have a huge impact. For many, even just walking or pacing whenever possible is a good start and making a few changes to daily routines during the working day can be fairly simple.

Here are a few things you can do as an employer to encourage staff members to become more physically active in the workplace:

  • Start by encouraging people to integrate exercise into their morning commute by running or cycling to work and offer showers and changing rooms for them to freshen up after.
  • Create spaces for employees to work in a standing position or kit your office out with adjustable height desks.
  • Recommend that people walk or pace around the office while taking calls whenever possible.
  • Consider installing under-desk exercise bikes or under-desk treadmills as a way for people to exercise while they work.
  • Encourage employees to take more regular brakes and do some stretches or try some simple desk exercises.
  • Recommend that employees go for a short walk at lunchtime, even if just for 10 or 15 minutes. Getting out of the office and taking in some fresh air is a great way to reset, and will help people feel re energised before working another few hours in the afternoon.

Encouraging a healthy lifestyle outside of work

You can also take steps to encourage a healthy lifestyle for employees outside of work. A combination of a healthy diet and physical exercise through sport activities can really have a huge impact inside the work environment.

There’s no doubting the importance of a balanced diet and the benefits of participating in sports. The health benefits of tennis, for example, include a reduced risk of heart attacks, stronger bones and muscles, and much improved mental health, to name just a few.

Work sponsored sports teams are a great way to encourage physical exercise amongst employees. Try arranging organised exercise sessions for staff, whether it’s playing 5 a side football or taking a spinning class. After all, it’s a great way to get people active and can also work as a bonding exercise, not to mention help in relieving a bit of stress after a long day in the office.


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