We hate to be the ones to break it to you, but the UK is getting fatter.
And when we say ‘fatter’, we don’t mean a couple of extra pounds thanks to over-indulging in an extra slice of pizza or two; we mean seriously obese. In fact, the NHS estimates that obesity now affects every 1 in 4 adults in the UK right now. Yes, now!
As waistlines expand, the physical effects become more than just needing to loosen the belts or go up a dress size. If you’re overweight or obese, the risk of suffering from life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer all increase exponentially.
Being physically unhealthy can also lead to more minor day-to-day problems; such as backache, breathing difficulties and tiredness. Basically, all the stuff which can lead to simple everyday activities becoming more and more difficult.
Alongside the negative physical effects, the emotional impacts of an unhealthy lifestyle can be just as damaging. Anxiety, depression, stress and poor self-esteem are just some of the negative psychological effects that can arise from poor diet or unhealthy living habits. But, unlike the physical effects, the damage to mental health can be trickier to spot and one that employers may not be aware of until it’s too late.
ESCAPING A VICIOUS CIRCLE
The thing about physical wellbeing is that a bad diet or sedate lifestyle aren’t the only triggers when it comes to poor physical health. Your mental health plays a crucial role in your fitness, too; so, if there is an ongoing or underlying mental health issue – such as stress or depression – it can become very difficult to break an unhealthy lifestyle once it becomes routine.
Comfort eating at home or indulging in a few beers after a stressful day at work or a difficult day may be popular ways to relax, but if they become the norm, they can lead to more harm than good, affecting both the personal and professional environments. And this statement can be supported with some pretty damming statistics…
The Health & Safety Executive recorded that in 2018, over 30 million days of work were lost in the UK due to employees suffering from general ill-health and workplace injuries, whilst there were also 1.4 million people cited as suffering from workplace-related stress. These facts have coincided with UK productivity flatlining and only marginal growth towards the end of the year.
There are of course going to be other contributing factors to the UK’s low productivity (not least the subject of Brexit!) but it’s clear that the health of the workforce does have a huge part to play. If employees are physically or mentally unfit, they simply won’t be up to the task of driving productivity, growth or success. This is where encouraging physical fitness – especially in the workplace – can lead to more positive outcomes and a happier, more productive workforce.
Now, it’s important to mention that simply going outside for a run is not going to solve more deeper issues – especially if they stem from being constantly stressed out in the workplace – but with physical exercise comes some additional benefits which can not only help support a healthy mind, but also encourage more positive personality aspects, too.
EXERCISE CAN MAKE YOU FEEL HAPPY
Well, perhaps not at first (especially if you’ve actively avoided physical exercise for a long time), but physical activities are a great way to not only stimulate the muscles in your body, but also the bits of your brain that deal with stress and anxiety.
Physical exercise changes the brain’s sensitivity for the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine. These hormones are proven to help relieve feelings of stress, so once you start getting active, the brain releases these hormones – thus reducing feelings of… yup, you guessed it, stress.
When you go out for a run, go for a swim or engage in any prolonged physical activity, the brain also releases endorphins; another group of hormones that help produce positive feelings and help combat pain, too. In fact, the effect they have is often compared to that of morphine – except with endorphins, it’s your body’s natural reaction to physical exercise.
These positive side effects to physical exercise can be really important when it comes to a healthy lifestyle and of course, a positive working environment. When something as simple as going for a brisk walk can produce not only physical but mental health benefits, actively encouraging staff to get up and get moving throughout the day is a no brainer!
IT CAN HELP WITH WEIGHT LOSS & WEIGHT MANAGEMENT
When it comes to shifting unwanted pounds, it’s not simply about restricting what you eat or constantly dieting. Regular exercise - combined with a healthy diet - is the ace in the hole that can help aid weight loss and keep all our bodies in peak condition.
A common mistake people tend to make when wanting to lose weight is to simply reduce their food or calorie intake… and that’s it! Whilst taking this action its own will aid efforts to slim down, it’s important to recognise that a reduced calorie intake will also lower your metabolic rate, which actually delays weight loss.
Regular exercise however, has been shown to increase your metabolic rate, which in turn will burn more calories and help you lose weight. Once you start combining regular exercise with healthy long-term diets and lifestyle changes, the effects on both your body and general health can be both quick and much more than skin deep, too.
If your staff are on a health kick and looking to burn off some excess calories, giving them access to physical wellbeing benefits such as gym memberships, a cycle to work scheme or just encouraging physical activities during the day might be just what they’re looking for to really make a difference.
IT CAN HELP INCREASE YOUR ENERGY LEVELS
A key indication of poor mental or physical health is a feeling of constant tiredness or inability to feel motivated. And this isn’t just down to forgetting to have your regular morning cup of coffee either.
As we mentioned earlier, physical exercise stimulates hormones in the brain which makes us feel good; boosting moods, combating anxiety and generally helping us all to feel that little bit happier and motivated. Just what you need in a busy workplace! But more importantly, it also boosts cardiovascular health and can help your heart and arteries stay ‘young’ and healthy, too.
Having a healthy heart and good blood circulation allows people to have greater endurance and feel livelier throughout the day.
When it's easier for people to do their day-to-day activities without feeling mentally or physically fatigued, they’ll have energy to spare, not feel so tired when work is done and be more inclined to go the extra mile when needed.
EXERCISE CAN HELP WITH YOUR MEMORY AND BRAIN’S HEALTH
If you struggle to retain information or become easily distracted, it might be because your body is craving physical activity – and not just because you’re in another meeting that could have just been an email!
Studies have shown that regular exercise is great at combating memory loss and maintaining the brain’s general health and problem-solving skills – especially with older people. Specifically, it was found that regular aerobic exercise (the kind that gets your heart and sweat glands pumping), appeared to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.
So, if you have a workforce that deals with lots of figures, data or problem solving, regular breaks and physical activities may just help them to work smarter and not necessarily just harder.
REGULAR EXERCISE HELPS WITH SLEEP AND RELAXATION
Finally, if you’re expelling energy during the day through exercise, it’ll be easier for your body to relax and rest at night. What’s more, it’s been shown that quality of sleep can be better, too – with recent studies demonstrating that taking part in regular physical activity increased people’s quality of sleep and seemed to help people with insomnia sleep longer and more deeply.
A workforce that gets a good night’s sleep will often wake up feeling refreshed, energised and ready for the day ahead. And whilst there are also many other factors in getting a good night’s rest, highlighting the benefits of physical activities is just one way an organisation can encourage their workforce to become more active.
SO, CAN A FIT WORKFORCE = A HAPPY WORKPLACE?
When it comes to having a positive and successful company culture, the health and wellbeing of the workforce – both physically and mentally – needs to be a top priority. With the benefits of physical fitness offering a wealth of positive side effects, every organisation should look out for the physical wellbeing of their employees and encourage them in living a healthy and active lifestyle. Plus, it’s easier to do this than you might think!
Whilst larger organisations may be able to offer healthcare packages or gym memberships, sometimes making just small changes in the workplace can make all the difference.
Encouraging workers to get up and have a short walk to break up the day, sharing the benefits of cycling to work instead of driving, or even having regular company sporting events can really bring physical fitness to the forefront and drive healthier lifestyles for all… And that can only be a good thing for everyone!
GET THE FULL LOWDOWN ON HEALTH AND WELLBEING IN THE WORKPLACE!
Having a mentally and physically healthy workforce plays a huge part in the success of a business; but if you're not sure where to start, check out our essential online guide to health and wellbeing in the workplace - just click the link below!