Customising the workplace to encourage healthy habits
BY PATRICIA MUIGAI
Office workplaces contribute significantly to the sedentary lifestyle. Sitting for hours, stressful work pressures and long working hours often leave no room for exercise. Physical activity (as little as two hours a week) promotes good health and overall wellbeing. Not only can exercise help to cope with work pressures, but it reduces the risk of diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Physically active people are also likely to have lower stress and higher energy levels and therefore, more productive. A healthy workforce is a win for everyone and employers should therefore prioritise creating a workplace environment that supports healthy habits and wellness.
Cyrus Bahati, a fitness trainer and dance instructor at Elite Fitness says “Many of us will hardly get into a fitness routine unless compelled by things like weight gain or doctor’s advice. Lack of time is often the reason for this and for those who make the effort, staying motivated can be difficult. However, considering the many benefits of exercise, it is important that we find ways to make fitness part of our lives.”
He adds that at the personal level, the aim should be to embrace an active lifestyle for the long term. “This can be done by making small healthy changes at a time and turning these into habits. With time, these habits become second nature and exercise feels less of a chore.”
Employees spend hours seated as they work. For fitness programs to succeed, opportunities should be provided to encourage people to move more. When employees are supported in this, they are likely to be motivated to sustain an active lifestyle. Some practical ways for organisations to do this include:
Making it part of company culture
One of the reasons some companies are considered great places to work in is that they have adopted ways to promote employee health, which include discouraging prolonged physical inactivity. These can be as simple as allowing small active breaks in between work to having facilities such as an onsite gym. The idea is to get people moving as often as possible.
Avail information resources on health and fitness to employees. This could be in the form of books, posters, leaflets and web content and so on. In addition to this, provide listings and contact information of resources like fitness/dance classes, gyms, coaches, events and other health and wellness services providers.
Office space can be designed in a way that allows increased physical movement. Examples include having space to stretch, trendy décor that incorporates equipment such as a balance balls to sit on as one works, accessible stairways, adjustable and ergonomic furniture and so on. Standing desks are increasingly popular in the workplace because they offer flexibility to alternate between working while standing and sitting.
Fit for a cause
Many events are held through the year to raise funds and create awareness for different causes. The activities may involve walks, runs, cycling, mountain climbing and other sports. Such events provide motivation for fitness as one trains for them and participates, while contributing to a good cause. Employees can be involved by forming teams to represent the organisation in such events. Apart from keeping people active and fit, this also helps teams to bond outside the workplace setting.
The cost of gym membership and time constraints can put people off exercise. Companies can partner with gyms to offer discounted rates for employees as an incentive to encourage exercise. It is also important that companies nurture a culture that promotes work and life balance, such that employees make the most of the working hours during the day to avoid unnecessary extended work time. This would make it easier for employees to use gym facilities after work.
Obviously, healthy eating habits are part of a healthy lifestyle. Wholesome, healthy food is essential to provide the energy to work and nutrients for a healthy body and mind. Combining healthy eating and physical activity helps to keep obesity in check and to maintain healthy body weight. To support healthy eating, employers can for example provide a fridge and microwave at the office for employees to bring healthy meals from home. Safe drinking water should also be provided. In addition, employees should be discouraged from eating at their desks. The lunch break is also a good time for people to take a walk.
Organising a fitness challenge
When held from time to time, such contests can offer benefits such as creating a competitive team spirit and of course, helping team members to achieve their fitness goals. The challenge can be set for a specific duration, say a month at a time, with regular updates and rewards given to winners and participants.
Resting to stay fit may sound ironic, but it is important to rest especially after intense physical activity. “Muscles need rest so that they can build strength and for tissue repair. Regular rest intervals rejuvenate the body, making it fit and ready for more activity,” says Bahati. Investing in employees’ health and fitness has benefits such as lower healthcare costs, increased productivity, enhanced morale and higher job satisfaction among employees. It encourages teamwork and creates a fun and enjoyable work environment.
Patricia Muigai is a nutritionist and a fitness coach. Email: email@example.com