Virgin Active: The benefits of exercise for the workplace

- Leadership - Aug 24, 2017

Written on behalf of Hilary Tysoe, People Director, Virgin Active UK

Bulging biceps, washboard abs and rock-hard glutes might be the results you’d expect from taking regular exercise and by making frequent visits to the gym. However, staying fit isn’t all about the physical.

Indeed, what people often do not consider is the mental value of staying healthy and how wellbeing is directly linked to increased productivity in the workplace, an idea supported by several studies including a 2015 report by NICE into the benefits of a healthy office culture. Keeping fit and healthy is very much a lifestyle choice – the benefits aren’t simply confined to the gym or the activity itself, but transcend into our everyday working lives. That’s why at Virgin Active UK we strive to ensure our fitness offering provides a holistic lifestyle experience for our members. We want them to leave feeling healthier in body and mind.

There are numerous cognitive benefits of physical exercise. Fitness is the fuel to our mental firepower – so why wouldn’t it help us when getting through those big to-do lists? It can help with improved concentration, faster learning and prolonged mental stamina. Being mentally healthy can also enhance our creativity and provide us with an opportunity to get the creative juices flowing. It provides a distraction, a different environment and a new focus, acting as a stimulus for the brain wave you may have been looking for. Why do you think Steve Jobs was so keen to hold walking meetings, rather than just sitting in his office? What’s more, it’s an effective way of relieving stress. A recent Labour Force Survey stated there were 488,000 cases of work-related stress in 2016 –  showing the real scale of the problem. For many businesses, regular exercise has become the answer.

Increased levels of stress can of course arise from us not being able to find that holy grail of a work-life balance. Part of the problem is that during our day, exercise is seen as secondary to work. Whilst that is obviously unavoidable at times, a team will reap the rewards of giving greater priority to exercise when possible. This doesn’t have to be before or after work but can also be during it. Getting out of the office to do some movement can help you to manage your time more effectively and provide you with an invaluable period to clear your head. We see many people using our gyms whilst working, including our MD Robert Cook when he’s taking a break from his day to try out a new class! Whether you exercise during working hours or not, you’ll end up feeling far more satisfied with your day and motivated for the next. When we don’t have time for an activity, it is more that we don’t consider it a priority given the time we have available – so make the time and schedule it in your diary, just like you would a meeting.

On a more practical level, encouraging exercise amongst staff can also decrease sick-days, allowing a team to work more effectively and avoid any periods of under-resourcing. More than a million-people experience a work-related illness in the UK each year, leading to around 27 million lost working days. Being fit builds your immune system and makes you less susceptible to the dreaded office bugs that have probably affected us all at some point. Fewer absences means you can maximise the time you have in the office, and is far better for both the individual and the organisation in the long-term.

You don’t need to be a giant like Google, who has a gym on site, to encourage your staff to get active. Find simple ways to incentivise them. For example, by setting up a cycle to work scheme or arranging a short-term special offer at a local gym. You could also invest in technology such as pedometers to reward staff, rather than the vouchers that many of us go for! At Virgin Active UK, we recently partnered with Virgin Pulse, a market-leading staff wellbeing platform available to businesses of all sizes, to help our staff set and achieve their own individual health goals. We also make sure that we offer them and a buddy free membership to any of our 45 clubs around the UK.  If you want to save money, there is nothing to stop you from enabling staff to take a short active break away from their desks if it doesn’t clash with meetings or deadlines. Arranging team sporting activities outside of working hours, or even just general exercise sessions as a group, is a great way to for colleagues to bond more and see each other in a different light, as well as keep fit.

The benefits of regular exercise for employees are clear. The mental wellbeing it leads to relieves stress, increases motivation and enables us to better manage our busy days, not to mention reducing the amount of time we spend off ill. Investing in a healthy workplace culture also really isn’t as difficult as many assume. A fit and healthy office is a productive one, enhancing business performance. And more and more companies are acknowledging it - exercise really is becoming irresistible.

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