Improving Physical Health and Well-Being at Work
Avoiding the Dangers of Sitting Down
Seph imagines that his body is a temple. But the reality is that he sits all day at a computer. He works late, feels stressed, eats junk food, and spends his evenings on the couch watching TV.
He knows that his physical health and well-being are suffering. Seph wants to make changes, but he's struggling with the "practicalities." He's finding it tricky to break his sedentary and stressful work routine.
In this article, we'll look at ways to tackle situations like Seph's – by building activity into your working day. We'll also show that, by focusing on fitness and health, you can boost your own productivity, performance and resilience, and that of your team.
What Is Well-Being?
Well-being is more than being healthy. It includes physical fitness, but it incorporates mental and social fitness, too. In short, it is the "feel-good factor."
Improving well-being in the workplace has been a goal of the World Health Organization for many years. Some organizations value well-being and promote it more than others, but there is almost universal agreement that a healthy workforce is a productive and happy one.
Understanding the Risks of Sitting
We know that activity and exercise are good for us. The problem is that office-based working can seem designed to discourage active lifestyles.
It is estimated that Americans spend an average of 13 hours a day chair-bound, with nearly 86 percent of U.S. workers admitting they sit down all day, every day. All this inactivity is storing up a host of potential health problems.
A 2016 report from the American Heart Association suggests that sedentary behavior can raise the risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers, and may also contribute to increased rates of mortality. It urges employers to create a healthier workforce by investing in alternatives such as stand-up workstations and isometric balls to sit on.
Practical Ways to Boost Your Health and Well-Being
It's a challenge to make significant and lasting improvements to your health and well-being. But the good news is that you can make a difference, even if your work is mainly office-based. Here are four ways to make changes that you can stick to, and enjoy as part of your daily routine:
1. Build more activity into your commute. This could mean walking, cycling or running all or part of the way to work. If you take public transport, you could get off your bus or train early and walk the rest of the way. It's a simple way to build up fitness, strength and stamina, and you may even reduce your commuting costs!
Consider how much longer your journey will take, and whether you need to invest in the right kit (good running shoes or a better bike, for example). And investigate what facilities your organization offers (such as cycle bays, showers and changing areas) to support a more active commute.
If you're a team leader, allowing flexible working is a way to give others the leeway they might need to benefit from more active commuting.
2. Build more activity into your working day. If your organization offers benefits such as fitness facilities or subsidized gym membership, that's a great way to start, if you can commit to using them regularly. But, even if your office is just a sea of computer screens, there are still things you can do to improve your health and well-being:
Take regular screen breaks. It's easier said than done, but aim to get away from your chair and screen once in a while. For instance, you can stand up to do stretching exercises, take phone calls while standing, or get up to talk to people rather than emailing them. A sticky note in the corner of your computer screen or a regular alarm on your phone can be a useful reminder to take a break.
Use the stairs, rather than the elevator. Often, the time difference will be minimal. But the activity will build up your aerobic capacity, raise your heart rate, and increase your muscle strength. Of course, you need to apply your common sense. Don't take the stairs if it's going to make you late, or out of breath at an important meeting!
- Hold stand-up or even walking meetings. This is an effective way to get you and your team out of your seats, and to think about your activity levels.
3. Go outside (or just be more active) at lunchtime. Fewer Americans are taking lunch breaks, often preferring to grab a snack or sandwich at their workstations.
Breaking this cycle can be tough when you're busy. But making an effort to leave your desk at lunchtime, even for a short walk around the block, can be beneficial. It can flex your joints, boost blood circulation, and allow for mental recharging and reflection.
Pedometers, fitbit® watches and app-based activity trackers can provide activity goals to work toward during your working day. Lunchtime clubs for fitness or walking are another great way to build up activity time, if your company has them. And if it doesn't, why not start one yourself?
4. Remember your diet. Healthy behavior change has to combine exercise and diet to be effective. Research has shown that, even if you're relatively active, carrying extra weight can significantly raise your risk of heart problems.
So, choose the healthy options from the staff restaurant and the vending machine, or take your own nutritious food to work. And avoid staying at your desk to eat it!
As a team leader, access to healthy food options may be a subject that you can raise with senior managers. This can be particularly important if your people work shifts or unsocial hours. These workers tend to be exposed to heightened health risks.
Changing Habits and Behaviors
Making all or some of these changes will likely improve health and well-being at an individual or team level. However, they are unlikely to improve an unhealthy organizational, team or management culture – one that, say, condones or even encourages long hours, or puts people under unreasonable pressure.
If you're a manager or team leader, you may be able to effect change to improve the health and well-being of the people around you, as well as your own.
If your team members habitually work long hours, are available 24/7, and are largely unsupported, for example, it's likely within your power to do something about it.
One way to promote healthy behaviors is to include them in a team charter. Then, you need to model and enable these behaviors. Your team members should feel they have "permission" to leave work on time, be out of contact while on holiday, to call in sick when they're ill, and so on. As a bonus, this will likely help with your own health and well-being.
You can also demonstrate your commitment to workplace well-being by championing health promotions and educational campaigns, or, perhaps, by encouraging exercise-based charity activities.
Tackling potentially unhealthy environmental factors, such as noise and bad lighting, may improve physical well-being as well as collaboration and productivity within your team. If such changes aren't in your remit, submit your suggestions to your manager, or your HR or facilities departments.
Making the Business Case for Health and Well-Being
It's useful to be aware of the growing evidence that demonstrates how an active lifestyle, good diet, and better sleep can make you and your team more engaged, energized and productive, as well as fitter and healthier. This can help when you need to appeal to senior managers for backing in promoting physical health and well-being in your organization.
For example, more than 90 percent of business leaders agree that highlighting wellness and a healthy workforce can influence morale, engagement and corporate performance, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
There is also evidence to show that staying healthy and active improves your brain "plasticity" – the ability to maintain good brain function.
This can enable you to control stress, anger and anxiety more effectively, and to improve your general physical and mental resilience.
Modern working practices can encourage sedentary lifestyles, which can lead to health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.
There is much that you can do to be more active, and to encourage more active working in others. This could include active commuting, day-to-day office contact, and breaking away from your workstation.
When you're considering health and well-being initiatives, be aware of how your team or organizational culture may be exacerbating the problem. Consider factors such as long hours, always-on working, onerous demands, and a lack of support from above. Making changes in these areas can help to reinforce the steps that individuals take to improve their physical health.
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