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by Liam Coultman | May 03, 2021


May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and one of the ways to improve mental health is to improve physical health. While the connection between mental and physical health and the importance of a healthy lifestyle are well documented, it can be difficult for people to fit active lifestyles into their daily routines. Which is where team leaders, managers, and other company decision makers come in. With their help and initiative, employees across the globe could be given increased access to physical health wellness activities and benefits.

Benefits of promoting physical health in the workplace

One of the many benefits of employee physical health is increased productivity. Studies have found that physical activity is associated with enhanced cognitive processing, thus playing an integral role in productivity and performance. Physical health is positively correlated with higher levels of concentration, increased mental stamina, reduced levels of stress, improved learning and sharper memory, and improved levels of focus and creativity.

Another benefit of physical health in the workplace is employees who lead healthy lifestyles and exercise regularly take fewer sick days, since they are much less prone to getting sick or injured than those who don’t lead healthy lifestyles. More active employees build up stronger immune systems, whereas those who are less healthy will be far more likely to fall ill from the common cold or other bugs that may be passed around the office quickly. A long-term commitment to exercise can also decrease prolonged absenteeism, as it reduces the chances of workers suffering from non-acute muscular and ligament-related pain inside or outside of the workplace. Thus, physically healthy employees reduce a companies' overall sick leave and associated costs with reduced productivity.

A third benefit of physical exercise is it has been found to elevate mood, which leads to increased employee happiness, increases self-confidence levels, and much-needed energy boosts. In fact, exercise doesn’t only create positive feelings but can also help reduce or eliminate negative ones such as stress, burnout, and tension. When provided with a short break during the day to exercise, employees are given the chance to increase blood flow, clear the mind, let off steam, and have some fun. All of this can translate into a better, more productive working environment.  

How to promote fitness in the workplace

As a team leader, manager, or other decision maker, creating opportunities for your team members to exercise not only makes it easier for them to participate in some form of physical activity but also shows them you take their well-being seriously. That, in turn, will help build a caring and nurturing culture, which will lead to your team and organization becoming more desirable to work for.

Although there are many ways to make it easier for your team members to participate in physical wellness activities, here are a few ideas.

1. Promote healthy lifestyles at the office

Try implementing a more fitness-minded culture within your workplace. You can do this by posting and syndicating information about sports activities and events. Providing workers with health screenings and having healthy snacks and fruit around for people to take can also be beneficial. Of course, if your office is virtual, then share these posts and information digitally, via Slack or other communication channels.

2. Have on-site facilities that encourage fitter lifestyles

This could be having a dedicated workout space or gym on-site that workers can use. But a kitted-out gym is not essential. Even a space where someone can go to stretch, practice yoga, and meditate can be helpful. Other things that can help include having showers on site and bike parking bays to encourage workers to cycle to and from work.

3. Subsidize your team’s gym memberships

If you don’t have space or means to create an on-site workout space, giving employees memberships to nearby gyms, yoga studios, and other fitness facilities can be a great workaround. This can also increase team bonding, as workers will be more likely to exercise together. 

4. Encourage and subsidize the use of digital equipment

Encouraging fitness through the power of technology can be an extremely effective way to get people moving. From wearable tech to apps, there are now hundreds of ways to provide fitness through digital means. In an instant, you can get access to workouts, nutrition tracking, sleep tracking, and much more. There are even advanced interactive exercise equipment such as the Hydrow rower and Peloton bike that can track data for multiple users. Whether you have a large or small budget there are plenty of ways to go digital.

5. Create fun incentives and challenges

Who doesn’t love being rewarded for hard work? Challenging your employees creates some healthy competition and motivation to achieve their fitness goals. For example, you could give a prize to the person with the highest step count at the end of each month, or a day’s vacation for the most workouts recorded.

6. Lead by example

It’s all well and good telling people to do something but it’s much better to show them. If you want a healthy lifestyle culture to run throughout a company then it’s much more likely to succeed if you take a top-down approach and management embraces fitness activities. This could be sharing your own physical health activities, goals, and challenges. It could also be making sure you participate in team challenges, too.

7. Participate in local sport leagues and events

Maybe your team can all train together for annual 5K Turkey Trot around Thanksgiving? Or maybe there’s a mini-triathlon that employees are interested in training for together? Or maybe there’s a co-ed company soccer league in your city? There are likely many sporting events going on in your community that your company can participate in. Why not try getting involved with local sports leagues, charity events, or even marathons. Chances are your team will greatly appreciate it—and get involved.

A final note

Of course, you're not limited to the ideas above. Get creative and implement fitness into your workplace in a way that mirrors the beliefs and values of your team and company. The most important things are to make sure your team is aware of the opportunities available and to encourage your team to take action. 

Liam Coultman is a certified PICP Athlete Performance Specialist Coach with a degree in Sport and Exercise Science. You can find more of his fitness and training related content at The Speed Project and Start Rowing.