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As fad diets and trendy workout plans surge and drop in popularity, the one thing that remains consistent seems to be one golden rule—that a healthy body requires a substantial level of physical activity. Some may find this an increasingly hard habit to form, as the common workplace setting in this day and age limits us to staving away for long hours while bound to our desks.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), experts recommend a minimum of two and a half hours of moderate to intense physical activity each week1. However, the hard data showed a lot less movement. According to a 2014 investigation from the European Commission, almost half of the population in the European Union (EU) over 18 years of age reported no time spent doing sports at all. Meanwhile, only 29.9 percent of those surveyed spent the minimum time of two and a half hours a week on physical activity for leisure2.
As office jobs and work-from-home arrangements increase in ubiquity, the amount of people restricted to a sedentary job rises, too. Wearisome commutes, long screen-time, shortcuts like lifts and escalators—all of these factors add to the modern condition of staying immobile. It’s worth noting that workplace stress can also adversely affect employee lifestyle. An excessive workload and stressful deadlines may mean longer working hours with fewer breaks, which only serves to continue the cycle of bad health and mental strain.
The feel-good sensation that comes with a workout does not only affect our mental and emotional well-being. The risk of several chronic conditions like type two diabetes, heart disease, and stroke3 can be alleviated by endorphins4, a brain chemical whose production is stimulated by regular activity. According to the WHO, an active lifestyle may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and several forms of dementia by reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, and improving sleep and energy5.
Seeing the impact the frequency of exercise has on our physical health and mental well-being, it is not a long shot to say that exercise can influence our productivity, too. Focus and mental acuity rely on a combination of concentration and mental alertness, which are easily managed with regular breaks or a change in scenery and movement. These few things, though simple, are the antidote to fatigue.
The good news is that there are easy ways to add in opportunities for greater movement throughout the workday. Exercise—or even simply setting aside time to stand up—can benefit our health in many ways. For some, it can be daunting to start penning in a full workout routine to add to your everyday schedule, but every journey begins with the first step. Moving more throughout the day—even if it is just for a few minutes at a time—is beneficial in cutting down the detrimental effects of sitting for long stretches of time.
Physiotherapist David Hall praises the benefits of this incremental technique, countering the misconception that only big life-changing modifications will make a difference. “It’s not that the exercise isn’t helpful,” states Hall, “It’s just that it won’t remove a factor that is shortening your life, in the same way that exercise won’t cancel out the health impact of smoking a packet of cigarettes a day.”
Curating a company culture where staying active is valued is key to sustaining these positive changes. Consider sharing an “active ethos” during the staff onboarding process to boost the team’s motivation—with permission from team leads, of course. Using an exercise app that sets reminders is a great idea to introduce mini-breaks throughout the working day. Desk stretches or brisk walks are effective ways to reset and re-energise during these breaks, so do try the stairs instead of the lift if possible.
Rather than relying on phone calls or emails, simply walk over for a chat, the good ol’ fashioned way. Stationing the printer or water cooler further away from desks is another hack that necessitates getting up from your seat. Above all, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day!
Aside from working in changes for employees, the overall layout of a working space could also be rearranged to suit an active working style. Adjustable sit-stand desks and fitness balls are great alternatives from being pinned down to regular desks and tables all day. Stretching guides could also be posted up in communal areas, whilst meetings could be conducted whilst standing.
1,2 Eurostat, last accessed July 2020: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/en/web/products-eurostat-news/-/DDN-20170302-1 (opens in a new window)
3 NHS, last accessed July 2020 http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/whybeactive.aspx (opens in a new window)
4 Washington Post, last accessed July 2020 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/02/05/where-people-around-the-world-eat-the-most-sugar-and-fat/ (opens in a new window)
5 Anxiety and Depression Association of America, last accessed July 2020 https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st (opens in a new window)
7 Quartz, last accessed in July 2020 https://qz.com/272350/theres-a-huge-hidden-downside-to-standing-desks-that-no-one-told-me-about-2/ (opens in new window)
8 NY Times, last accessed in July 2020 (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/business/stand-up-desks-gaining-favor-in-the-workplace.html?_r=0 (opens in new window)