Improving Mental Health and Increasing Performance at Work Through Physical Activity

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By Carmen Hewitt

Prolonged sitting and lack of physical activity can lead to various health problems, which can affect employee productivity and overall mental health. The lack of physical movement can negatively impact your workforce and result in increased absenteeism, decrease morale, increase in sick days off, and employees’ long—or short-term WorkSafeBC claims.

Statistics have shown a significant increase in physical and mental health issues since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has posed challenges for employers and human resources professionals. So, how can we ensure the happiness, health, and productivity of employees at work?

Everything has its pros and cons. Among other things, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic proved that we can work from home and still have weekly meetings through video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Teams. But, working from home often leads to long hours sitting in front of computers, which can result in back pain and other health issues.

Employers and human resources professionals can support their workforce by taking steps to create a healthier workplace. This includes increasing mental health awareness and encouraging physical activity while reducing sedentary behaviour at work. Human resources professionals and health and safety representatives can provide support and educational resources to help employers and employees be more active at work.

Engaging in physical activity combined with a balance diet can increase the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, known as endorphins. According to the Mayo Clinic’s website “this effect is often called a “runner’s high,” but any aerobic activity, such as playing tennis or going on a nature hike, can lead to the same positive feeling.” These are hormones that interact with receptors in the brain and help to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and the best part is that being physically active improves self-esteem.

Implementing an Employee Well-Being program is a good start. some examples of these programs are:

  • Partnering with your local gyms and offering corporate discounts and memberships to your employees
  • If within budget, offer sit-stand desks
  • Increase morale by implementing an employee appreciation month
  • Incorporate nature walks into the workweek
  • Encourage meditation, either at the office or at home, you just need 5 minutes
  • Incorporate Stay Fit at Work training such as  5 minutes stretch guides and workout videos  
  • Place posters around the office or send monthly email newsletters to encourage your employees to take active breaks and discuss how talking to someone you trust can help.
  • Mini library at work. Reading self-help books is also a great way to improve mental health
  • Implement third-party counselling for your employees
  • Offer a step or walking challenge such as a daily step count
  • Encourage coffee breaks and short walks outside the office

I will admit it. Sometimes, I can’t find time to exercise, or I don’t have the physical and mental energy to get up and do it, and that is okay. I give myself a short timeframe to refocus, then I get up and keep moving! There are many ways to increase your activity levels. One of my favourites has been attending yoga and other group classes. They are fun, engaging, and encouraging. I have recently read an article that there is something to be said about the power of exercising in a group setting; people get inspired and motivated, you feel more accountable, and it can enhance your social life. The key is to consistently engage in activities that you enjoy!

My final note is that when employers support and implement well-being programs and self-care in the workplace, they ensure the creation of a safe and happy work culture. This leads to increased productivity and employee retention, increased employee morale, reduced claims costs, and sick time off. There are endless positive benefits!

#meditation #lowerstresslevels #self-care #mentalhealthatwork #employeeprograms #wellnessprograms #worklifebalance

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