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UK firms must make fitness accessible for staff

The health and fitness industry has matured a lot over the past 25 years. We need to make sure it stays accessible and engaging.

We’ve moved away from pumping iron and Jane Fonda style workouts, to the current and developing role of the sector in trying to help meet the health and wellbeing challenges of the nation in terms of physical inactivity and the growing obesity crisis. It’s quite a substantial shift for an industry that is only really 40 years old.

In 2010, 26% of adults in England were reported to be obese. Current estimates suggest that by 2050, 60% of adult men and 50% of adult women will be obese. That costs the NHS over £5 billion a year, according to the Department of Health. For businesses, the picture is worse. A study in the Oxford Journal of Occupational Medicine found that obese workers take more sick days, resulting in a cost of £9.77 billion a year to UK plc.

At Life Leisure, our vision is to get more people more active, more often.

In the workplace it can be hard though. Unfortunately, there can be a stigma attached to those who, for whatever reason, are overweight or obese and this is a big problem for employers. An employee may not wish to discuss their weight at work, and they have every right not to.

Yet, through a range of workplace programmes, UK business can do much more to combat the problem; saving themselves money and contributing to the health of the nation.

This approach starts with our own organisation and, specifically, with my role as CEO in setting the tone. My job can be relentless. Without exercise I simply wouldn’t be able to keep up. A phrase I use to my team is “fitness is about the life in your years, not the years in your life”.

I tend to exercise five or six times a week – sometimes in the gym, but also outdoors as much as I can. And it is hard work. In my experience there are very few people who love exercise so much that they don’t find it hard from time to time.

It takes effort, but you have to put something in to get something out of it. I know, ultimately, my workout will make me feel and perform better as CEO.

In terms of the Life Leisure team, we use a policy of ‘preferred behaviours’. Our HR mantra is PB = PB, which stands for Preferred Behaviours = Personal Best. As a result we recruit staff who understand and believe in the massive benefits that exercise can bring. However, that doesn’t mean they are all super-fit and athletic.

We have employees who have achieved significant weight loss and staff who are recovering from serious illnesses. They all have free membership to our facilities and get a reduced rate for friends and family. We even have a circuit training class on Friday morning just for staff, which I attend as often as I can.

We need to work to make sure the UK health and fitness sector offers programmes in a non-intimidating, educational and fun way. My challenge to UK firms is to make wellbeing programmes available to staff.

Of course funding is an issue, but the Public Health budget does have money available for commissioning programmes that will deliver results. We have the evidence, add to this the will of employers and the rest is just logistics.

Malcolm McPhail is CEO of Life Leisure