In the Zone

Fo­cus on ex­er­cise and fit­ness

Business Spotlight - - CONTENTS -

It’s been de­scribed as “more dan­ger­ous than smok­ing, kills more peo­ple than HIV and is more treach­er­ous than parachut­ing”. What is it? The answer is: sit­ting. The Huff­post warns that sit­ting is fast be­com­ing “the smok­ing of our gen­er­a­tion”. We are apparently av­er­ag­ing 9.3 hours per day sit­ting on our back­sides. So what can we do about it?

One ob­vi­ous im­prove­ment is to walk or cy­cle to work rather than take the bus or car. Or to get off a stop or two ear­lier and walk the re­main­ing dis­tance. Fit­ness apps can help build 10 to 15 min­utes of ex­er­cise into a busy day. A fit­ness tracker can mon­i­tor ex­er­cise lev­els (and heart rate) and set re­minders for tak­ing “ac­tive minute” breaks from sit­ting. The grow­ing trend for stand­ing desks can help, too.

“If you have a job or life­style where you have to sit for pro­longed pe­ri­ods, the best sug­ges­tion I can make is to take a move­ment break ev­ery half hour,” said Keith Diaz from the Columbia Univer­sity Depart­ment of Medicine in a CNN in­ter­view. “Our find­ings sug­gest this one be­hav­iour change could re­duce your risk of death.”

HR con­sul­tant Har­riet Mul­vaney was just 44 years old when she ex­pe­ri­enced a heart at­tack climb­ing the stairs at home. For­tu­nately, she made a full re­cov­ery. “Look­ing back on it now, I would say I was very in­ac­tive,” Mul­vaney told the BBC. “I thought I was ac­tive, but ac­tu­ally I think I was just busy.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tish Heart Foun­da­tion, more than 20 mil­lion peo­ple in the UK are phys­i­cally in­ac­tive, cost­ing the NHS around £1.2 bil­lion (€1.3 bil­lion)

each year. It’s a sim­i­lar story in the US, where only 20 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion is get­ting enough ex­er­cise.

Health ex­perts of­ten say that if ex­er­cise came in pill form, it would be the most sought-af­ter drug on the mar­ket. Cer­tainly, Har­riet Mul­vaney would have been tak­ing it. In her busy job, she sel­dom found time to fit in any sort of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. Ev­ery day, she drove an hour each way to and from work, where she spent eight to ten hours sit­ting at her desk. Ex­er­cise was not seen to be pro­duc­tive. Her story is not un­usual — yet the ben­e­fits of work­place ex­er­cise to em­ploy­ees and em­ploy­ers alike are clear.

A study by Leeds Met­ro­pol­i­tan and Bris­tol uni­ver­si­ties found that “ex­er­cis­ing im­proved mood and per­for­mance, lead­ing to bet­ter con­cen­tra­tion, [bet­ter] work­based re­la­tion­ships and height­ened re­silience to stress”. Re­search from Den­mark shows a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in per­for­mance at work as well as a re­duc­tion in sick days when em­ploy­ees take part in work­place phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and coach­ing, as com­pared to home-based ex­er­cise. Im­prove­ments in me­mory, prob­lem-solv­ing, work ethic and men­tal health have been ob­served in stud­ies. Im­por­tantly, US sci­en­tists re­cently showed that these ben­e­fits ap­ply re­gard­less of age.

So why not pay work­ers to keep fit? Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hoot­suite, a so­cial me­dia com­pany, en­cour­ages his 700-plus work­force to use the com­pany gym and to join yoga classes, boot camp work­outs and team sports be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter their work­ing day. Em­ploy­ees can block out an hour of the day for ex­er­cise, pro­vided it doesn’t con­flict with meet­ings.

“I see em­ploy­ees re­turn from work­outs re­freshed and bet­ter fo­cused on their jobs,” Holmes told the BBC. “Time lost on ex­er­cise is made back and more in terms of im­proved pro­duc­tiv­ity.”

UK ex­perts ERS Re­search & Con­sul­tancy sug­gest fur­ther sim­ple steps or­ga­ni­za­tions can take: or­ga­niz­ing gym and sports dis­counts for em­ploy­ees, in­volv­ing work­ers in ac­tiv­ity plan­ning, of­fer­ing fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives for keep­ing fit, spon­sor­ing work­place sports teams and pro­vid­ing flex­i­ble hours to make time for phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity.

Busi­ness con­sul­tant and au­thor Nilofer Mer­chant has found an un­usual way to build phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity into her busy work­ing day: by hold­ing walk­ing meet­ings. In­stead of a cof­fee shop or board­room meet­ing, she asks busi­ness part­ners and col­leagues to join her on a walk or hike. She told the Huff­post that she lis­tens bet­ter, keeps her mo­bile de­vices (and in­ter­rup­tions) out of sight and feels more cre­ative as a re­sult.

Har­riet Mul­vaney has made changes, too. Since her heart at­tack, she has joined ex­er­cise pro­grammes and phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity chal­lenges. “I had to think about the job that I did and the life I was lead­ing,” she told the BBC, “and start gen­er­ally look­ing af­ter my­self bet­ter.”

“Em­ploy­ees re­turn from work­outs re­freshed and bet­ter fo­cused on their jobs”

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