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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Making It Work At Work

There is no doubt that physical activity is one of the keys to maintaining and improving one’s health. From the days when Jane Fonda was sometimes ridiculed for her work in promoting aerobics, to our present time, when we have an obesity epidemic brought about by unhealthy food choices, subliminal and outright advertising of “supposed” health products that do more harm than good, stress levels at home and at work, and lack of actual physical movement due to improvements in automation in every facet of our lives, it has become a problem for exercise professionals to get people to actually move.

When I say move, I mean anything that raises your heart rate and taxes your body’s muscular endurance or strength, aerobic capacity and flexibility: that could mean something as “simple” as walking, to events like all-out triathlons that have been increasing in visibility as of late. Despite what we see in media, the data does not lie: our country has one of the highest rates of obesity in Southeast Asia, and you only need to see what our kids choose to eat to know that there is a problem as far as health is concerned.

Should this be a burden for business owners and managers? Absolutely!  Any business worth their weight in (insert business product or service here) knows that their company cannot possibly survive, much less thrive, unless they have a fully functioning, competent workforce present, and one of the imminent dangers this workforce faces is having a poor state of health, which leads to substandard levels of personal productivity, feelings of depression, lethargy, absenteeism – all of which can affect a business and its’ bottom line.

What can businesses do to shore up the health of their human resources? Should businesses do something about it, at all? To answer these, I will share ideas from “Workplace Health Promotion” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Council on Exercise, and my own personal experience as a fitness professional.

Mixing business with fitness.
(Courtesy of

 It Makes Good Business Sense

Businesses spend money when they hire, train, compensate and give other by benefits to an employee they hire. Multiply that by how many employees you have and you can see that this is not an amount to be trifled with: you do this because you are in expectation that what they deliver will help the business become profitable.

Think of their physical well-being as an insurance that what you have materially invested so far in their development will not be wasted due to sick days or lacklustre performances. It is vital for business owners and managers to realize that the state of their employees’ health has a direct impact on how productive they are, and the healthier they are, the less stress on other expenses that can be controlled. (Think of the medical claims your employees use annually under your company health packages, and how much smaller your premiums would be if there are less claims made because majority of them are reporting less illnesses.)

It Has To Come From The Top

Like many ideas that need traction, prioritizing your employees’ health will be boosted immensely if this was mandated and supported by the company’s top brass. To quote the American Council on Exercise (ACE) article “Fostering a Workplace Culture of Physical Activity,” they note that “when leaders regularly communicate the importance of employee health and well-being – and walk the talk – it becomes part of the corporate identity.”

You can do this by not only stating in an official capacity that physical activity is encouraged, but by actually providing opportunities to do so with your existing facilities. You can encourage stair walking and make stairwells “more appealing with paint, artwork and motivational signage.” You can designate your company canteen to make a “healthy choice” option  and challenge them to make it appealing so that even those who think healthy food is blah would have their interest piqued. You can relegate the smoking area to the lengthiest route and dingiest area to discourage the habit.

All you need are a determination to make this policy work and creative thinking.

Make Room For Physical Activity

In the old days, the only company perk that has “physical benefit” written all over it was the company’s basketball court, which, because of basketball rules and company politics, could only be taken advantage of by a select population of work: usually middle to upper management, men and only a handful out of the entire workforce population.

I’m glad to say that times have changed, and more and more companies are devoting physical spaces to exercise equipment and possibilities. I have taught exercise classes in company gyms, meeting rooms and even a chapel (which was used sparingly), and advised management teams on what and how they can utilize their space to accommodate more employees to exercise and move their bodies. Gyms should remember to provide for equipment for (1) muscular endurance (2) muscular strength (3) aerobic endurance and (4) flexibility. Consult a fitness professional so that you can properly take steps to making your workplace a healthier, stress controlled environment.

It Makes It Harder To Say No

A common “excuse” people use is the time/distance factor: they usually whine that they have “no time” to exercise, or that gyms, parks and other facilities are just so out of the way and inconvenient. Having exercise equipment and spaces right where they work eliminates the distance factor altogether, and as for the time element? Did you know that the American College of Sports Medicine has revised its’ recommendation for physical activity? You can do 15 minutes of exercise in the morning, and another 15 in the afternoon or after work, to complete their recommended time of 30 minutes of daily exercise. Surely, everyone can spare 15 minutes to move instead of taking a cigarette break or catching up on celebrity gossip, and it would clearly be time well spent.

On the other end are the gym “fanatics” who are so obsessed with exercise that they have started cutting their office hours just to catch a class or get in a few more reps (repetitions) on their chest exercises. I was once conducting a mind body class when this client (a doctor) got a phone call (which she answered while class was in progress, a big no-no) and was telling her secretary to tell her patients she would be late and that she was stuck in traffic, but in truth, she just wanted to finish the class. Having a facility on-site makes it unnecessary to resort to fibs just to have more exercise time.

It Shows Concern and Improves Company Loyalty

Employees will know that the company wants to take care of them and makes the effort to prove it by “walking the talk”. It is a win-win situation that boosts morale, reduces workplace sickness, improves employee confidence and well-being, and has a positive effect on the company earnings.

Like that popular sorts company ad says, Just Do It. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.


*This post first appeared in the fitness section of Asian Dragon magazine, July-August 2013 issue.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that taking care of your employees' well-being makes good business sense.

    I'm an office employee myself and I try my best to keep active at work by remembering to stretch my muscles every half an hour. I also take the stairs instead of the elevator, etc. etc.