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Movement for Health and Productivity in the workplace

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The Sedentary Epidemic: Reclaiming Movement for Health and Productivity in the workplace

Over the last fifty years, as a society, we’ve witnessed a seismic shift in our activity levels—a transition from walking or cycling to work or school with purpose and vitality to one defined by convenience, speed, sedentarism and stagnation. Over time, the health benefits of our old habits and practises have slipped from our consciousness and has led to a very significant health priority.

Since the 1960’s, the UK population has become 20% less active than they used to be. So, the question is – Why have we stopped moving?

Regular movement is one of the main drivers of longevity, yet 75% of the UK population are struggling to get even half an hour of movement in a week. Research from the University of Bristol highlights the pervasive influence of technology and urbanisation, which have led to a decline in physical activity across all age groups [1]. There is a combination of factor at play here, prolonged sitting at desks to binge-watching television or video games in the case of the young, have become the norm, contributing to a host of health woes. Add to that the high demands of work and increasingly busy lives, filled with distractions from all areas of life, have undoubtedly led us to become more sedentary than we ever have been. It almost feels as though it’s impossible to incorporate regular movement into our daily routines. Is there too much pressure on the individual here? It’s a question that demands introspection and analysis.

The cost of inactivity to our health and wellness is profound let alone the impact on our ageing. Studies from the British Heart Foundation underscore the link between physical inactivity and an increased risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity [2]. Moreover, the toll on mental health cannot be overstated. Research from King’s College London reveals a bidirectional relationship between physical activity and mental well-being, with sedentarism exacerbating symptoms of anxiety and depression [3].  You’ve probably heard the expression ‘runner’s high,’ which refers to feeling relaxed after completing a long bout of movement. This is because intense movement like that releases a chemical in the blood which provides short-term, psychoactive effects such as reduced anxiety.

Furthermore, movement has been proven to improve performance, memory, and cognitive abilities, which helps to prevent long-term, incurable diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life.

But it’s not just our health that suffers—our healthcare systems bear the brunt of the burden. NHS England reports that physical inactivity costs the healthcare system billions of pounds annually, with preventable diseases stemming from sedentary lifestyles placing immense strain on resources [4]. Research conducted by the UK government found that the effects of physical inactivity costs Britain £7.4 billion annually, with the NHS taking a hit of £1 billion itself. This has an impact on GP appointments, mental health referrals, right through to hospital admissions, the ripple effects of our sedentary habits reverberate throughout the healthcare continuum.

In the workplace, the ramifications are equally stark. Sedentary office cultures breed disengagement, fatigue, and decreased productivity. Research from Harvard Business School underscores the importance of movement in creating a vibrant and high-performing workforce [5]. Employers must recognise their role in combating the sedentary epidemic and take proactive steps to promote physical activity within the workplace.

So, what can be done? Workplace interventions hold immense promise in rekindling a culture of movement and vitality. Simple initiatives such as standing desks, walking meetings, and on-site exercise classes can make a profound impact on employee well-being and performance. Moreover, fostering a supportive environment that values and incentivises physical activity can engender lasting behavioural change.

At Your Work Wellness we’ve incorporated meetings on the move – arrange a catch up with colleagues over a thirty-minute stroll through town. Two studies conducted by JAMA Neurology and Medicine found that taking just a short 30-minute walk everyday can significantly improve your cardiovascular fitness, strengthen your bones and muscles and provides a space to de-stress. It also ensure that the body’s circadian rhythm is rebalanced with the body clock in our genes – in just 30 minutes – which means it also helps to give you better sleep quality.

It is very evident from the research that if as a population we start to move again – we could avoid millions of deaths a year globally and at the same time, improve our quality of life.

I am a huge advocate for those in leadership positions, to lead by example, to pick up the reins and encourage healthy practices in the workplace. There needs to be a concerted effort from leaders to spearhead a culture shift in the workplace which focuses on the health and wellbeing of everyone, and they are best placed to make this shift happen by putting techniques such as mobile meetings into daily practise.

Prioritising movement will have immediate benefits in the workplace, meetings will be more dynamic, engaging and productive.  Even 20 minutes of fresh air will put so much energy into the brain and body to allow creativity and smart thinking. 

Another quick workplace friendly idea is something like Tai Chi or breath workshops – there are a myriad of professional companies who will come into organisations to provide this support, advice and run workshops in the city of London.

Small changes such as investing in standing desks or regular company activity days can make a huge difference in the office. Research by the Harvard Business Review showed that workers who engaged with physical movement came to work with more energy, performed their jobs better and improved their overall attitude to work. For those in charge, they saw a decrease in absenteeism and work-related accidents which usually cost the employer a considerable amount. You’ll most likely retain your talented staff, too, because they will be more likely to stay if they can see their employer taking action to improve their health and wellbeing.

All it takes is a concerted effort to spearhead such activities and the courage to think outside of the box of-course!

In conclusion, the sedentary epidemic poses a huge threat to our health, productivity, and societal well-being. It’s time to reclaim movement as a fundamental pillar of our daily lives. By prioritising physical activity within the workplace and beyond, we can pave the way towards a healthier, happier, and more vibrant future for all.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] University of Bristol. “Why have we stopped moving? Investigating the UK’s physical activity habits.” Accessed February 10, 2024. https://www.bristol.ac.uk/sps/research/projects/physical-activity/why-have-we-stopped-moving/.

[2] British Heart Foundation. “Physical Inactivity Report 2021.” Accessed February 10, 2024. https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/our-research/heart-statistics/physical-inactivity-statistics.

[3] King’s College London. “Physical activity and mental health: Evidence and recommendations.” Accessed February 10, 2024. https://www.kcl.ac.uk/policy-institute/assets/physical-activity-and-mental-health-evidence-and-recommendations.pdf.

[4] NHS England. “Physical Inactivity.” Accessed February 10, 2024. https://www.england.nhs.uk/physical-inactivity/.

[5] Harvard Business School. “The Impact of Workplace Wellness Programs.” Accessed February 10, 2024. https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/the-impact-of-workplace-wellness-programs.

 

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