Help employees to fit exercise into their daily working lives


It is officially still summer, so we thought it’s not too late to share ideas that can inspire your employees to kick start routines which will help them get a daily dose of exercise. Research published last year suggested that over 70% of adults are not getting the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week, with 4 in 10 blaming work commitments for not being regularly active.

The benefits of exercise for employees’ mental health are well-documented. Scientists state that physical activity can cause chemical changes in the brain, such as the release of endorphins, which can positively change your mood. This, in turn, can positively impact motivation and self-esteem, boosting energy levels. An employee who is physically fit is likely to have fewer sick days as they are generally more resistant to any “bug going around” than a person who isn’t fit. Studies have also shown that those who exercise more often are likely to be more productive and higher achievers than those who rarely exercise.

Here are some simple ideas you could introduce to encourage employees to fit more exercise into their busy working lives.

Encourage walking, and make it competitive
What easier way for employees to build exercise into their daily routine than walking to work? Rather than sporadically following fads, walking is low impact and something nearly everyone can do, without costing them money or much additional time.

Have your own ‘walking to work’ day, week or month and get everyone to either download an app or use wearable trackers/pedometers, such as a Fitbit, and track their number of steps over a set period. If your budget stretches far enough, you could provide encouragement by buying employees their own wearable trackers. If employees live quite a distance from work, encourage them to park up and walk the last 20 minutes or get off a stop earlier on the bus or train. Create a little league in the office and have prizes for whoever has the most number of steps each week or month. There’s nothing like a bit of friendly competition to keep people committed. We had our own pedometer challenge with 8 teams from around the business. It was closely contested and after 2 weeks there had been over 5 million steps! It was a great way to encourage walking and helped to build camaraderie too.

Encourage cycling to work
Like walking, cycling to work is one of the easiest ways to incorporate exercise into a daily commute. Some people feel they can’t justify the time to go to the gym but most people can often bike to work in the same time as catching the bus, train or even driving to work. Three great ideas to encourage more employees to cycle to work are:

  • Signing up the business to a ‘cycle to work’ scheme which will enable employees to save up to 40% off the cost of a new bike
  • Install bike racks in your staff carpark
  • Give access to showers for employees who ride or run into work
  • Provide lockers that enable employees to leave a change of clothes in the office

Bring the workout to the workplace
Why not have a yoga or fitness instructor come in to run sessions in the workplace? You may even be able to identify suitable employees who are keen to take on the role as office Mr or Ms Motivator to co-ordinate free circuit classes, runs or walks before, during or after work.

Incentives for exercising
Speak to the local gyms to see if you can negotiate discounted memberships or even pay for employees’ monthly membership if they go at least 4 times a month.

Make it clear exercise is encouraged during the working day
When it comes down to it, encouraging exercise is as much about workplace culture as anything else. People may feel it’d be frowned upon if they go for a lunchtime run or gym session but if you make it clear they can block off an hour for exercise during the day, provided it doesn’t conflict with meetings and they make up the time you’ll soon find that employees will be much happier and more productive as a result.

Company sporting events or teams
How about encouraging a company netball, football or rounders team? There’s likely to be a local league somewhere near you. There’s nothing like a bit of team competitive spirit to get people bonding.

Or encourage employees to enter a team fun run or charity sporting event? After all we all need a milestone to work towards to get us committed to exercising more.

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Start small if you have to
Human beings are diverse and not all exercise is suitable for everyone. But there can be universal agreement on one thing: staying at your desk or workspace all day can be unhealthy. One starting point could be to ensure your employees have the opportunity to spend at least a small amount of time away from their desk during the working day – perhaps through a walk around the block or making a cup of tea.

This content originally appeared on Benenden’s workplace hub where employers can find a range of related articles to help with their health and wellbeing strategy