Keeping active

Work and health don’t have to be separate, with many experts and organisations showing how the two can merge. 

Why keep active at work?

With the majority of your waking hours spent at work, it makes sense to incorporate some of your daily physical activity (as recommended by the Australian government) into your working day.

“Being physically active in the workplace improves all those things we know we need to maintain for a healthy body,” explains Jerril Rechter, CEO of VicHealth. “It makes sure we’re at less risk for becoming obese which causes things like heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.”

Getting up regularly to move around isn’t just a nice thing to do—it’s essential for your health.

How to be active during working hours

In order for workplaces to become more active, it’s vital that they incorporate it into their culture. “Build it into the habit of your working place,” Rechter advises. “It’s really hard to make those changes on top of everything else, but if you can build it into the pattern of your working day, that’s the best way to maintain good physical and mental wellbeing.”

Some simple ways you can look after your employees’ wellbeing through physical activity include:

Meetings on the go

Stepping out of the boardroom and taking meetings to the road is a great idea for both physical and mental health. “Getting out of the office for walking meetings helps you connect with your colleagues in a different way,” says Rechter. “The kind of energy that’s in the boardroom shifts.”

If you can’t walk, stand.

“We have a standing meeting room,” says Rechter, who adds that looking after employees’ mental health can boost their creativity. “Good ideas and innovation can come from any location.”

Be mindful of placement

Do your employees have everything in reach? This might be an opportunity you’re missing for creating awareness of the importance of moving around more. Rechter says that in the VicHealth offices, “We put the good coffee machine downstairs and we put the newspapers upstairs, and that encourages people to walk between floors. It also makes sure they connect with different people across the organisation which is really great for their mental wellbeing.” Having shared printers in central locations also encourages employees to get up and move around.

Have some fun 

Why not organise an outside sports game, either in your office’s outdoor space or in a local park? This could be arranged at lunchtime or during the afternoon to help boost that all-important vigorous physical activity and create a team-building opportunity. 

Use a stand-up desk

Experts recommend sitting for no longer than 30 minutes at a time, so using a stand-up desk can help you keep working while looking after your health. The posture change between sitting and standing is important for your musculoskeletal health, and studies show the desks reduce sitting time.

Get involved in fun initiatives

Each September, the Black Dog Institute encourages physically activity for mental health by holding an initiative called Exercise Your Mood Month. You can hold events and fundraisers, and be creative about how to get your employees moving through their work day.

Choose the stairs

The first step in encouraging your employees to use the stairs instead of taking the lift is to make it as simple as possible, for example ensuring stairwell security codes are accessible. And don’t forget to keep it in the front of people’s minds as they’re waiting for the lift to arrive: “Put a sign on the elevator that triggers people to think about walking on the stairs instead,” suggests Rechter.

Making physical activity work

For Robert Moorman, founder of video production company Hunting With Pixels, encouraging staff to be more active is about more than just physical health.

Implementing ideas such as walking meetings has been instrumental in increasing the organisation’s productivity. “Our staff meetings are a 40-minute walk, and then we have a coffee together,” Moorman says. “It makes us more productive; it’s a 40-minute walking track so the meeting doesn’t get stretched out to two hours. We’ve also noticed it keeps us focused, and the way ideas pour out is incredible. You don’t get that same energy in the boardroom.”

It’s this creative thought that Moorman was seeking. “We meet with people in the digital space who tend to take their laptops out and start executing things without spending enough time thinking,” he explains. “When you walk alongside each other, you get better brainstorms.”

Moorman also recently introduced cargo bikes into his business and says that, although it took some time to convince his staff, they can all now see the benefits. “Riding to a meeting saves a huge amount of time: it avoids traffic and you don’t have to worry about parking. We turn up with a real freshness.”

And the benefits don’t end at 5pm, either. Moorman says the flow-on effect is a happier life outside work: “When you ride home, your day is behind you.”

Such creative business activities are all about changing your mindset, adds Rechter. “It’s not just bums on seats that are driving productivity; it’s your end result. If you can provide an opportunity for your staff to come to work and enjoy themselves, have a good culture and focus on their wellbeing and physical activity levels, that is just great for them.”

Research

Government recommendations: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/F01F92328EDADA5BCA257BF0001E720D/$File/brochure%20PA%20Guidelines_A5_18-64yrs.PDF

Sitting time limit: http://www.abc.net.au/health/thepulse/stories/2012/09/24/3596655.htm 

Prolonged sitting risks:

https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/video-gallery/david-dunstan-on-prolonged-sitting-at-work

Physical activity reducing anxiety and burnout: http://www.beyondblue.org.au/docs/default-source/research-project-files/bw0204.pdf?sfvrsn=4

Black Dog research: http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/public/gettinghelp/exercise.cfm

Exercise Your Mood Month: http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/public/getinvolved/exerciseyourmood.cfm