We’ve heard a lot about how maintaining an ideal weight lowers the chance of illness and early death, but a new study tells an even better story. It turns out that exercise and physical activity alone are enough to reduce the causes of early death among people who are obese. This is critical news for two reasons:

  1. It turns on its head the notion that diet plus weight loss for people with a high body mass index (BMI) is the only path to better health.
  2. More than 1 in 3 US adults (36.5%) are obese, and another 32.5% are overweight; in all, more than 2 in 3 adults in the US are overweight or obese.

The study found that high BMI (body mass index) or low physical activity can be associated with an increased risk in illness and early death. It also found that the risk for physically active adults with high BMI is comparable to or even lower risk than for inactive adults with lower BMI.

While no one is saying that people shouldn’t eat healthy, what they are saying is that physical activity and exercise are more important than diet alone. Research from the Mayo Clinic, in fact, points to a downside to dieting alone regardless of your BMI — you’re more likely to regain weight quickly. Exercise can help you maintain your weight loss over the long term.

Employee Health Is Worth Investing In

Some employers may still be unaware of the correlation between productivity in business and overall employee health. But connection is clear when you look at the business costs associated illness and disease:

Sadly, Employees Are Exercising Less

Unfortunately, jobs that require physical activity are being replaced with automated, sedentary ones as more and more employees become more tech oriented both at work and at home. 

The ongoing pandemic has made this even worse: 40% of people report exercising less in 2021, according to a recent study. More than 1 in 3 survey respondents say that they are working more because the barriers between work and life are becoming increasingly blurred.

5 Ways Employers Can Help Encourage Exercise

It’s time for organizations to step in and provide resources that allow employees to exercise consistently. Some things you can do include:

  1. Encouraging standup meetings, even though people are working remotely
  2. Offering activity competitions, like 90-second plank challenges
  3. Providing sit/stand desks for individuals wherever they work 
  4. Considering replacing happy hours with activities that bring people together to learn a new skill or hobby
  5. Offering flexibility for in-person workouts  

Exercise improves the health of people with high BMI. And with 1 in 3 adults considered obese, and another third considered overweight, this can have a huge impact on employee health. The problem is that people are working more and exercising less. But organizations can offer their employees ways to get more exercise and improve their health.