Why getting the nutrition, hydration & exercise basics right is good for business

By Tracey Ward, Head of Business Development and Marketing at Generali UK Employee Benefits

With over a third (35.82%),1 of people globally have gained weight during the pandemic, well-documented return to work anxieties might, for some, be linked more to appearance than anything specifically Covid-19 related. Fortunately, there are some simple, practical steps employers can take to ensure nutrition, hydration, and exercise form an integral part of a wellbeing strategy.

Homeworking has ensured that many of us aren’t taking breaks for any form of exercise and reaching for the biscuit tin amidst back-to-back video calls has become the norm. This is understandably taking its toll on the mind and body.

Knock-on effects

Physical and mental health are intrinsically linked. That’s now a given. Consequently, weight gain can affect mental health – and vice versa – resulting in a negative downward spiral.

Eating habits, physical activity levels, and other weight-related lifestyle habits have all been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. A recent UK study found large numbers of people reporting negative changes in eating and physical activity behaviours compared with pre-lockdown. For example, 56% reported snacking more frequently.2

Add to this the finding that more overeating and less physical activity was predictive of a decline in mental health during the lockdown and we start to see the full extent of the problem. It’s estimated that significant mental health problems in adults rose by 50% during the pandemic – and we know that regular physical activity can reduce the incidence of depression, anxiety, and stress significantly.2

Wellbeing foundations

So, it stands to reason that nutrition, hydration, and exercise should form a key part of any workplace wellbeing programme. Yet only 33% of HR and Line Managers said that they were. This finding comes from a poll of attendees at a recent webinar that Generali UK hosted in partnership with Bupa.*

Also, half (50%) said that where their programmes do include such support, it isn’t tailored for those who are home working.

There are lots of reasons to provide education and support to employees with regards to nutrition, hydration, and exercise. From tackling issues such as health and social inequalities – which are modifiable – to helping people improve their resilience against mental health problems, and against Covid-19. Or simply because eating well, keeping hydrated, and exercising helps ensure people are healthier and happier.3

Top tips for including nutrition, hydration & exercise in your well-being programme

Experts at Bupa, speaking as part of the webinar, suggested embedding some of the following positive steps into your organisation:

  • Walking meetings.
  • Healthy recipe swops.
  • Health checks and assessments to help raise individual awareness of any diet and lifestyle changes required.
  • Access to Bupa talks on nutrition, hydration, and physical health (the ‘taster’ session presented as part of the webinar is available as a free recording*. Full versions and bespoke options might be available via funding support from Generali UK’s wellbeing investment matching initiative).
  • Consideration of the food and drinks available in the workplace.
  • Challenges to keep people active; sponsored walks, bike rides, step counting competitions.
  • Providing bike racks.
  • Set nutrition, hydration, and exercise goals.

Benefits to people and business

Overall, offer something that works specifically to your workplace and employees’ needs. Evidence indicates a positive relationship between nutrition, hydration, exercise, and job performance via improved cognitive abilities – it can directly improve creative and analytical thinking and our attitude to cooperating and collaborating with others. It can also slow down and reverse cognitive decline in old age.3

Keeping physically fit also means we sleep well, cope better with stress, have more energy, and are in a generally better mood – and happiness itself is proven to make us more productive.4

In short, what employees eat and drink and how active they are directly impacts their mood and performance. And that will impact the workplace. So, while the need to take more responsibility for employees’ daily nutritional decisions might not seem that obvious, the upsides could be significant. Nutrition, hydration, and exercise could be a simple yet effective secret weapon for HR in the workplace.

*To receive a recording of the ‘Nutrition & exercise for healthy living’ workshop, hosted by Generali UK Employee Benefits, in partnership with Bupa, please email [email protected]

1RunRepeat, March 2021, Quarantine Weight Gain: 35.82% Gained Weight During Pandemic [19,903 Person Study] | RunRepeat

2Obesity, eating behavior and physical activity during COVID-19 lockdown: A study of UK adults, October 2020, Obesity, eating behavior and physical activity during COVID-19 lockdown: A study of UK adults (nih.gov)

3 Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Exercise, nutrition and the brain [Accessed May 2021] https://www.gssiweb.org/sports-science-exchange/article/sse-112-exercise-nutrition-and-the-brain

4 University of Oxford, Happy workers are 13% more productive, Oct 2019 https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2019-10-24-happy-workers-are-13-more-productive