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Should Exercise Be Complulsory at Work?
April 12, 2017

"Exercise in the office isn't a new idea. But it's such a clear win-win - in terms of health, morale and productivity," says Ryan Holmes, the CEO of HootSuite, a social media platform. In his article entitled, “Why It's Time We Paid Employees to Exercise at Work,” Holmes makes a passionate case for exercise becoming part of the working day and bosses paying for it. His social media tech company has about 700 employees, and exercise before, during and after working hours is encouraged, in the small on-site gym. "Yoga classes are packed before work, at lunch and after work. In the gym, volunteers from our company lead sweaty bootcamps and cross-training classes. Groups set out from our office for lunchtime runs and evening hikes. We have a hockey team and a road biking team and even a Quidditch team that does battle on broomsticks in the park."

"We made it clear that anyone could block off an hour for exercise during the day, provided it didn't conflict with meetings and they made up the time (by having lunch at their desks, for instance)." And he believes it's more than worth it. "I see employees return from workouts refreshed and better focused on their jobs. Time lost on exercise is made back and more in terms of improved productivity." And he believes he'd never have built up his company without taking exercise himself during the day that enabled him to "maintain composure and focus in the midst of chaos".

Each year, more than a million working people in the UK experience a work-related illness. This leads to around 27 million lost working days costing the economy an estimated £13.4bn. A study at Bristol University showed that employees who can exercise at work "are more productive, happy, efficient and calm". Exercise re-energised staff, improved their concentration and problem-solving and made them feel calmer. With 60% of our day often spent at work, the British Heart Foundation wants employers to make workplaces healthier places.   But if employers can't go that far, the foundation says bosses should encourage staff to take a short active break during the day.

Exercise breaks are a feature of a number of large Japanese companies. In 2010, China reintroduced mandatory exercises twice a day at state-owned companies. Making exercise compulsory would be seen as a step too far for a country like the UK, but with more and more desk-bound jobs these days, do employers hold the key?

One place to start could be for employers to ban "cake culture" in the office. Prof Nigel Hunt says the habit of bringing cakes into the office fuels obesity and dental problems, "For many people, the workplace is now the primary site of their sugar intake," he says, and suggests staff should be rewarded with fruit, nuts or cheese instead.

Another very simple step to help our health in the office is to stand up more. The NHS offers advice on how to manage the government's recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week, but they also have advice on how much just standing up can improve our health. Standing up three hours a day, five days a week for a year, would be the equivalent of "running 10 marathons", according to experts.

Tips to reduce sitting time:

  • stand on the train or bus
  • take the stairs and walk up escalators
  • set a reminder to get up every 30 minutes
  • place a laptop on a box or similar to work standing
  • stand or walk around while on the phone
  • take a walk break every time you take a coffee or tea break
  • walk to a co-worker's desk instead of emailing or calling

One final option we could suggest is getting an office dog. Nestle's headquarters in London allows employees to bring their dogs to work because they say it promotes a less stressful office and encourages more exercise and a healthier work-life blend. Walkies anyone?


Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going.

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