By Alan Kohll, Contributor for forbes.com
Alan covers corporate wellness, employee well-being and health trends.
We all know how important getting daily exercise is to our body and mind. But statistics gathered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that only one in three adults achieve the recommended amount of physical activity each week, and more than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
This is especially true with the busy schedule of today’s employees. “I don’t have time” is the go-to excuse for skipping the gym. Work, family, and social commitments make it difficult to incorporate a regular workout routine. And I’ll admit, finding time to exercise can be difficult.
One of the ways we help our employees at TotalWellness find more time for exercise is by allowing employees to exercise “on the clock” for 30 minutes each day.
Exercise in the office isn’t an extraordinary new idea. But regular physical activity has such positive impacts for both employees and employers – I think it’s worth revisiting all the benefits.
At TotalWellness, exercise before, during and after working hours is encouraged. While our gym is modest compared to some companies, it’s well used. We also offer group exercise classes two days a week. And our employees love it.
“I really enjoy that TotalWellness has a place to work out during the hectic workday. Often times we get busy with our workday schedules as well as our busy home schedules and we tend to find an excuse not to exercise. Having an onsite fitness center eliminates any excuse not to exercise. Even if it is for 15 minutes I feel mentally and physically refreshed after exercising, and I feel ready to take on the next part of my day,” said National Account Executive Kenton Hicks.
Here are some reasons why we choose to pay our employees to exercise at work:
Providing an opportunity for colleagues to connect outside of a formal work environment fosters healthy personal and professional relationships. By giving employees a gym (or a space to move), companies show proof they want to see workers thrive beyond the workspace. Plus, working out with other people can help hold your employees accountable for workouts. They’ll be much less likely to skip if someone is waiting for them at the office gym.
It’s no secret that stress wreaks havoc on the human body. Stressed out employees have trouble focusing, thinking clearly, and making rational decisions. Reports show exercise helps improve mental health by providing clarity to better handle stress effectively.
Exercise reduces cortisol levels (the body’s stress hormone) while sweating releases endorphins that help your mind relax. Instead of reaching for the office sweets, employees have the opportunity to burn some calories.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Currently, CVD is the costliest disease in our nation, with a price tag of $555 billion in 2016. Strategies that address major CVD risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol can significantly reduce the burden of CVD to employers.
Regular exercise promotes heart health by lowering bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and raising good cholesterol levels (HDL). Exercise helps strengthen the heart, allowing it to work harder and longer. New blood vessels will also form from regular physical activity, which decreases blood pressure.
Energy levels are an important indicator of well-being and engagement. When Gallup researcher Tom Rath surveyed 10,000 people, only 11% reported having “a great deal of energy yesterday.” One of the best ways to battle fatigue is to workout. Exercise improves circulation and strengthens the heart muscle – providing an instant rush of energy.
Obesity in the workplace is a significant issue for employers. Milken Institute estimates direct healthcare costs of $480.7 billion due to obesity in 2016, along with $1.24 trillion in lost productivity. Exercise is commonly used for weight management and weight loss benefits. When paired with a healthy diet, exercise will boost weight loss and tone the body. Those who exercise regularly have a much lower risk of obesity.
A Harvard study showed the benefits of exercise aren’t just physical. There is evidence that it boosts mental abilities like:
Enhanced creativityQuicker learningSharper memoryImproved concentration
Some research suggests that exercising during working hours can also pump up work performance. A Leeds Metropolitan University study found that workers who visited the gym during working hours were more productive, managed their time better, and felt more work satisfaction.
You’ve heard the saying “exercise is the best medicine,” and it’s true. Inactivity takes a toll on the body and exercise has a tremendous effect on the prevention of numerous chronic diseases. Moving helps muscles grow stronger, keeps hormones balanced, and decreases inflammation throughout the body, explains Christian K. Roberts, Ph.D., exercise physiologist of the Gerofit program at the Greater Los Angeles VA Health Care System.
An active lifestyle significantly lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes, asthma, chronic pains and arthritis, and certain types of cancer. An active life just might mean a longer, more enjoyable life.
Improved Immune System
According to MedlinePlus, regular exercise helps flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways – reducing the risk of the common cold, flu, and other illnesses. Physical activity strengthens your employees’ immune systems – making them less susceptible to whatever bug is going around the office. Employees that workout regularly are also generally healthier than their sedentary counterparts. This means less sick days, less medical appointments, and overall reduced absenteeism.
Remember it doesn’t take a state-of-the-art gym to get employees moving, either. Our gym at TotalWellness is relatively small; we have two treadmills, an elliptical, a rowing machine and weights. Even a small space with a weight rack and resistance bands can give employees a great full body workout.
With more than one-third of U.S. adults living with obesity, it’s more important now than ever to consider allowing employees to work out during their day. The benefits you will receive from your employees’ improved health and work performance will more than outweigh the cost of paying them to work out.