We are back with the second part of our Ask the Experts Series and this month, we’ll be discussing the connection between mental health and physical activity alongside Luca Solari¹ and Karl Simons OBE².
Physical Exercise: Good For the Body and the Mind
It’s known (and proven) that physical exercise is a great way to stay physically healthy while taking care of our mental wellbeing. Exercising at a moderately intense pace is enough to release endorphins in our brains, a hormone responsible for making us feel good. Being active also boosts our self-esteem, helps us concentrate and even sleep better.
Being physically active doesn’t have to mean going to the gym everyday or training for a marathon – It’s about sitting down less and moving around more, whatever that means for you. Do we need to say anything else or are you convinced?
The evidence of a connection between body and mind is enough to affirm that a more active lifestyle would be beneficial for everybody. Within organisations, this should not [mean] giving up on removing other unnecessary stressors, like bad leadership or unorganised processes.
When a company actively invests in [handling] these stressors, it’s also successful in promoting physical activity as an aid [for de-stressing]. While many companies are embracing the latter, much is lost because they fail to address structural issues in the design of work and workplaces. – Luca Solari
There are masses of research studies that prove the link [between] chemical reactions within the body to that of the mind, so it’s definitely not a myth. What’s important [within organisations] is to have physical and psychological health policies and strategies wrapped together, complimenting each other. – Karl Simons OBE
How (and Why) Companies Should Help Employees Stay Active
The State of Work-Life Wellness Report, a recent study conducted by Gympass with more than 9 thousand employees across 9 markets, shows that employees see wellbeing benefits as the second most important influencing factor when considering a role, only after salary. On top of this, 77% of employees worldwide said they would consider leaving a company that doesn’t focus on wellbeing.
Companies shouldn’t underestimate the power of wellbeing over employees’ decisions in the workplace. Organisations can also gain from providing wellness benefits to its workforce. Regular exercise has been found to reduce poor mental health days by 40%, and some billions of dollars could be saved a year by reducing turnover and lost productivity due to employee burnout.
One way companies can help employees stay active and happy is by providing a robust wellness program, a group of initiatives employers put into place to encourage, aid, and improve overall employee health and wellbeing. Why not become a company that cares for your employees’ wellbeing?
The lines between personal [life] and work can be blurry in different cultural contexts. Despite this, we have seen more and more activism by HR [teams], which have progressively widened their [wellbeing] offers to employees.
But providing services like corporate gyms or wellness programs [on their own] is not enough. It is important to reinforce [these initiatives] aimed at helping people to change. Providing information and nudging employees are good options – sharing [success] stories and [creating] word of mouth can also be beneficial. Another option is to mix wellbeing activities with other corporate events, like retreats, training and off-site meetings. – Luca Solari
The importance managers play in supporting their team of colleagues is crucial and more than ever nowadays, as the demands and pressures of life and work increase; managers must work to ensure the wellbeing of their teams they work alongside. It’s important to not only empower your team to be active at work but also lead by example.
For those setting [company] policies, such as HR or Health & Safety professionals, consider balancing between reminding employees what is already in place to support them and new initiatives being introduced, to enhance what’s offered. I am a big believer that over 80% of health and wellbeing initiatives introduced into a company each year should be zero cost, and [more about how] this plays into why movement can affect people whilst at work. – Karl Simons OBE
Creating the Habit of Being Active
We know that creating a new habit isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when it comes to physical exercise – but it’s worth it. According to the New York Times, there are five steps we can take to get started:
- Tie the new habit to an existing one
- Start small
- Do it every. Day.
- Make it easy by clearing obstacles
- Reward yourself
There are even apps that can help you track habits, like Fabulous (which is available through Gympass).
It’s also very easy to skip exercise due to a busy schedule or just because we feel tired. But know that any amount of exercise is better than none. Going for a walk, dancing to your favourite song or exchanging the lift for the stairs are a start.
We need to declutter our lives and our schedules, promoting a reflection on what is really urgent. The desire to get things done is sometimes prompting managers to exceed in their demands, unnecessarily biting into employees’ schedules. Training and mentoring on habit forming could be helpful to free more time to exercise. – Luca Solari
When our lives get very busy, we tend to become increasingly stressed and stop doing the things that are good for us, such as eating healthy, working out or even moving as much. This is simply us being human.
I’ve found that people who exercise in groups tend to not drop off as much as when you’re on your own. No different to whilst at work, taking a break at lunch happens far more often if you regularly do it with your friends, going out for fresh air and a chat gets you active immediately. The important thing is to find what works and keep doing it. – Karl Simons OBE
In our third and final post for Ask the Experts Series, Luca Solari and Karl Simons OBE will share with us what they are taking as the biggest learnings from 2022 and what we can expect to see in 2023 in the world of corporate wellbeing. Until then!
¹Luca Solari is a professor at the Milano University, as well as a company consultant and founder of Orgtech. He provides advice to top managers on how to enact strategies through powerful people-centred initiatives, coaching and mentoring.
²Karl Simons OBE is an experienced Non-Exec and Executive Director with over 30 years of employment experience, having worked internationally across all continents and in numerous critical industries. He is currently the Chief Futurist at FYLD, an AI Technology company.
*London Sport, a Gympass partner, is a charity working to ensure more Londoners live happier, healthier lives through access to sport and physical activity.