You’ve been behind the work computer for a few hours now. Your neck and back are starting to hurt… but there’s just half an hour before the next meeting and that presentation isn’t going to write itself. It’s fine, you think to yourself, that niggling pain will disappear soon. However, by the end of the day, you feel restless because the most you ended up moving was between your desk to the breakroom and back. And surprise, surprise, that pain hasn’t disappeared either.
Sound familiar? Every day millions of office workers forfeit the chance to stretch their legs to work more, thinking any sort of break means less productivity. But what if you could prevent pain, re-energize yourself and still get everything done during the day? There is a simple and often overlooked way: taking a few quick breaks throughout your working day.
That’s right. Taking a few minutes out of the day to do some physical exercise could help keep your brain alert, your body engaged and on track to enjoy your day once you’ve finished at work. Here’s how.
In this blog-post you will learn about:
- What is exercise in the workplace
- Why exercise in the workplace is important
- What positive effects exercise in the workplace has on physical, mental and social wellbeing
- How exercise at work affects your time and productivity
What exercise in the workplace looks like
Don’t worry. When we are talking about exercise in the workplace, we are talking about just a few minutes of your time each day to give your body and mind a break. Not only that, but these breaks don’t require you to get dressed specifically for the exercises or even to break out into a sweat. All they require from you is a little bit of time and the inclination to build it into a healthy habit.
Because let’s face it, being sedentary and working in front of the screen or at the desk for extended periods of time can be exhausting – and the sedentary behavior brings negative health consequences that cannot easily be corrected by doing physical activity after work (1). It is really important to break up your sedentary day with even just a few minutes of this exercise. And yes, it might sound counter-intuitive when it comes to getting work done, but studies have shown that actually taking some time out to exercise during your working day could help you to become more productive (2).
Despite this, many workplaces and their employees have a hard time finding the right time and exercises for healthy breaks.
Bottom Line: Exercise in the workplace takes a few minutes out of your working day, but can actually increase productivity.
But why is exercise important during working hours?
Think about it. According to a statistical review of EU workers, the average employee works 41 hours a week; that is, 8.2 hours a day, or just over one-third of your entire day! (3). That’s a lot, and in addition, you have all of your other essential responsibilities, such as getting to and from work, making dinner or doing the grocery shopping.
This certainly doesn’t leave a lot of room to meet the World Health Organization’s recommendations of physical activities. WHO research states that the average adult should engage in regular physical activity of at least 150 minutes per week to prevent lifestyle diseases physical inactivity may be linked with (1). Every bit of exercise helps and doing just 5-6 minutes of exercise once every working day can get you to 20 percent of your weekly goal. Exercising while at work also decreases time spent being sedentary, which is linked with developing cardiovascular diseases and cancers (3).
In addition, you should avoid being sedentary for longer periods throughout the day while working, even if you are achieving the WHO recommendations for physical activity after work, as studies show that being physically inactive causes resistance to the metabolic benefits of exercising (4).
Interestingly, the extra exercise does not just benefit your health but also contributes positively in other ways. According to a 2015 study from the University of Southern Denmark (SDU), an hour of physical activity and training per week had a demonstratively positive effect on employees and the workplace as a whole (5). And by exercising during working hours, you could help to lower the risk of office injuries, such as neck, back and lower back pain (6). Exercising increases the oxygen flow to your brain, making you more efficient and decreasing the risk of getting a headache. Stress symptoms could also be reduced and the extra exercise could lead to overall heightened job satisfaction (7).
Bottom line: Doing short exercises throughout the working day can help lead to a healthier mind and body.
But if you needed more reasons why doing exercise at the workplace is an awesome idea, here’s five solid reasons:
1. Physical activities help to lower sick leave absences
The healthier the employees, the less sick leave used.
That’s the message according to the previously mentioned 2015 SDU study, where absence due to short-term sickness fell by 56% after just one year of incorporating physical activity at the workplace every week. This is because the health of the employees, including their condition and blood pressure, improved significantly (5). Another study from 2008 also showed a strong link between satisfaction with the psychosocial work environment conditions and sick leave, where the satisfied group had 30% less sick leave compared to the dissatisfied group (8).
But fewer sick days are not just for the benefit of management. It also leads to less stress for employees as they don’t have to catch up on lost time later.
2. Exercise and wellbeing are linked
Exercise creates wellbeing!
Did you know that job satisfaction and general wellbeing can also be increased by doing exercise during working hours? Your physical wellbeing also contributes to your mental health, as movement and exercise can counteract symptoms of stress.
According to recent research by the University of Copenhagen in collaboration with Pleaz (not yet published), mental and overall wellbeing improved in participants who took part in at least one Pleazer per working day for four months. This engagement in healthy breaks predicted 10 to 20 percent of the change in wellbeing across the four months (9).
In addition to the actual positive effects of physical activity, an in-house exercise break also helps to show that the workplace is genuinely interested in the wellbeing of its employees. Over time, it can provide happier and more loyal employees!
3. Exercise contributes to socializing
Healthy breaks can also be performed in a social setting and help with overall workplace cohesiveness.
A 2017 Japanese study of workers who participated in 10 minutes of moderate exercise with colleagues three days a week during their lunch break showed that social relationships between colleagues improved. The same study also showed reduced fatigue and interpersonal stress, while job satisfaction and “vigor” increased (7).
Even if some or all employees work from home, joint exercise can create a space for coziness, community, and socialization. New employees get to know everyone faster. A single team becomes more cohesive. Different departments get to know each other better.
By combining social activities and exercise, you get both the health benefits – and the opportunity to talk together in a way that your busy work day may not allow.
4. Exercise in the workplace is good for business
If there’s no time to take breaks, employers could be missing out on increased productivity and looking at increased health care costs.
According to the SDU study, productivity increased by 10% for staff who exercised while at work, compared to the control group who did not exercise during work hours (5). That productivity was partly due to less sick leave, but healthier employees also become more productive because they have renewed energy, more oxygen to the brain, and focused better on the task ahead of them.
5. Healthy breaks throughout the working day frees up time
Yep, it sounds counter-intuitive but it works! People are busy nowadays. There’s kids to drop off at school, extra studying to be done and weekend events to plan, all taking up time that could be used to exercise. It’s a very common explanation for why people aren’t doing enough exercise – there’s just not enough hours in a day.
But if you’re a worker who performs a lot of sedentary work, it can make you exhausted, less productive and more ill – therefore actually costing you more time that you just don’t have! When the body is stationary, the blood flow to muscles and organs decreases. The ability of muscles to absorb and metabolize nutritional components also decreases.
A lack of exercise can also increase the risk of a number of diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease (1). It can also make you lethargic. Taking five to ten minutes out of everyday life for a short physical exercise is, therefore an investment, not just to your workplace, but to yourself. You have more time to actually get your work done and then to go home with more energy to share with your friends and family.
Bottom line: There’s many benefits to doing exercise in the workplace, with these five just the beginning!
- Edington, D. W., Burton, W. N., & Schultz, A. B. (2020). Health and Economics of Lifestyle Medicine Strategies. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 14(3), 274–277. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827620905782