Fitter, Happier: How Exercise Improves Workplace Wellbeing

You probably already know about the benefits of exercise when it comes to improving mental and physical health.

But a decent workout – even if it’s only once or twice a week – can make a big difference to your productivity and wellbeing in the workplace too, particularly a sedentary office environment.

Encouraging good habits

It’s easy to encourage physical activity. Simply provide employees with an incentive to join a gym, or even – if you have the means – creating your own dedicated space for exercise within your own office. Plenty of people have cottoned on to benefits of workplace wellbeing already, and the new generation of smart buildings often contain ready-made fitness facilities.

However, just getting workers away from desks in general is a path to success. Even something as simple as standing desks, yoga sessions or cycle-to-work schemes can help build good habits, creating a happier and healthier workforce.

Furthermore, discouraging employees from eating their lunch at their desks, perhaps by providing healthy alternatives in a dedicated eating space, can work wonders.

But don’t be fooled: workplace wellbeing isn’t a fad, nor are yoga sessions and on-site gyms simply a tacky Silicon Valley export. It’s another piece in the puzzle when it comes to improving workplace wellbeing, and something facilities managers can learn from.

It’s also an important conversation to have at this time of year, when the mornings and evenings are dark and the mood is low. A bad workplace environment is a big contributor to poor wellbeing in the winter, so providing colleagues with an opportunity to get up from their desk can be a serious boon to productivity.

But how does it work?

Leveraging the runner’s high

The so-called ‘runner’s high’ occurs when the brain is pumped full of endorphins, a chemical generated when we exercise that helps us keep moving even when our muscles are tired. If you ever feel burnt out in the afternoon, just try and get some light exercise in and you’ll suddenly feel much more energised.

Exercise also helps mental engagement by focusing the brain on a single activity – swimming and water-based sports are particularly useful here, as they avoid distracting, high-tech exercise machines.

All this has a demonstrable effect. Researchers at the University of Essex School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Science found that stress levels fell by 25% after exercising, and productivity rose by 20%.

They found that just a short burst of exercise in the morning produced a measurable improvement on stress and mood even as late as 4pm.

Improving access

Despite the obvious benefits of exercise to companies, office design consultants Peldon Rose found only 21% of UK employees have subsidised gym membership, 33% have cycle-to-work schemes, and only 16% have on-site gym facilities.

As a result, there’s plenty of room for employers to take the lead in improving access to fitness facilities.

In the United Kingdom, we typically work longer hours than France and Germany, but register significantly lower productivity. Employers shouldn’t be afraid of letting their workers spend more time out of the office, particularly if they can encourage that extra time to be used for exercise.

If they can make these improvements, employers can reap dividends from the boost in physical and mental wellbeing it provides.