In the Zone
Focus on exercise and fitness
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”