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Get your workforce moving: Five tips for combatting office inactivity

Finding time to exercise can be tough but there are ways staff can stay active even at their desks

Workplace wellbeing is a hot topic at the moment. The sedentary nature of many occupations is leading people to assess their activity levels and look for ways to increase the amount of exercise they get on a daily basis. From a personal health perspective this is a positive step, but the benefits are also beginning to be felt across the workplace, resulting in better levels of concentration, productivity and happiness.

Key findings from a recent collaborative study between VitalityHealth, the University of Cambridge, RAND Europe and Mercer, Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, show that healthier employees tend to be more engaged and focused, and levels of absenteeism drop significantly with a more active workforce.

With workers spending on average 80% of the day sat down finding time to exercise can be tough, and taking periods away from the desk is impossible for many people. However, exercise can fit into the nine to five with a few changes to the daily routine.

Get creative

Bodyweight exercises form a central part of many structured training programmes and can easily be done, even in the smallest of offices. Employees can work on their lower body with squats and lunges, building up strength and reducing fatigue. And exercises such as sit-ups and planks help build core strength. The only tools needed are space and possibly a gym mat. The routines are easy to learn and are a great way to improve fitness and focus the mind.

Little and often

We’ve all read in-flight pamphlets with basic exercises designed to keep blood flowing during long periods of sitting. The same sorts of routines can be completed while sitting at a desk. ‘Deskercise’ movements might seem simple, but small movements such as tapping your toes, shrugging your shoulders or air punching can be extremely beneficial for improving posture and muscle tone. The trick is to keep moving throughout the day. Set a goal of five minutes every hour or try a different desk-based exercise after every phone call.

Buddy up

Mustering up the energy to go and exercise is a difficult barrier to overcome for some. Finding a colleague to work out with can give a huge boost to motivation.

Employers – take the lead

While there has been a recent increase in employers offering incentives to get people active, it’s important to establish figureheads. Driving morale and providing encouragement is key to the success of any health push and leading by example is especially important. If exercising during the work day is seen as acceptable and encouraged engagement levels are likely to spike. Introducing incentives such as the cycle to work scheme shows dedication to change. The sedentary work day affects the whole organisation, from the top down.

Long-term vision

Promoting exercise and movement within the office environment is not something that can be achieved overnight and unfortunately the results are not instant. The good news is that a small amount of continuous change can go a long way and, over time, employees will notice the difference. Fitting in a gym session every day is not an option for everyone. But with small changes to the daily routine it is possible to be active at work even if your job role isn’t.

Greg Whyte is a former pentathlon olympian, sports scientist and Shakespeare Martineau ambassador