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The Importance of Exercise to your Employees

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As we celebrate International Happiness at Work Week, Real Business reflect on the ways we can help and improve the wellbeing and happiness of our employees. We all know how important exercise is within our daily routines; not just for our body but for the sanity of our mind too. This is especially true with the busy schedule of our workforce. Founder of The Engagement Coach, Amrit Sandhar, describes the positive impact physical activity could provide within your work environment.

We all want our employees to be happy and productive, and with many employees now working from home, whilst we have no influence on the design of where they work, there are ways we can help them be happier and productive whilst working. Remote working brings about many advantages such as allowing us to enjoy time with family and getting more sleep, to name a couple. However, there are a few challenges which we need to be aware of, namely the lack of physical movement and the opportunities to be amongst nature.

Working remotely has resulted in many of us being fixed all day to one location in our homes, staring at our laptop screens which can quickly lead to mental and physical exhaustion. Whilst having momentary breaks to get up and make a tea or coffee can provide some relief from the video calls, how can we incorporate exercise and the ability to take a break from our screens?

Research by Lee et al found that taking breaks as short as 40 seconds to view natural scenes such as a flowering meadow, were enough to boost sustained attention, compared to viewing concrete buildings. Now many of us might be lucky just to see a patch of grass from where we work, but research tells us that having some green plants nearby, can have a positive impact on our mood and performance. We often position plants and flowers in windowsills, visible for others, but often out of sight to where we work, yet considering the benefits, we should consider incorporating them into our workplaces in our homes.

Many people are rediscovering the joy of phone calls, and this also brings benefits in freeing us from our laptops. Being outdoors brings important benefits, and we can still be productive whilst enjoying nature. Research by the Forestry and Forest Products Institute of Japan found that being outdoors reduced the stress hormone cortisol levels by up to 15%. So, a walk through the park or even walking around in the garden whilst taking a call, could have a profound impact on happiness and wellbeing.

But why are we drawn to the great outdoors? The theory that humans innately want to connect with nature, was first introduced in the 1980’s by a biologist called Edward Wilson in his “biophilia” hypothesis. As Douglas and Douglas explain in New Scientist, Wilson believed that our environment shaped our brain, “priming it to respond positively to cues that would have enhanced survival for our ancestors, such as trees, savannah, lakes and waterways”. Therefore, we feel good in nature, so it makes sense that employees should find ways of trying to get out and spend time enjoying the great outdoors, whether in the garden, the park, or just a walk around the tree-lined streets where available.

We all know the benefits of exercise in boosting endorphins which in turn make us feel great but finding the time to fit exercise into our busy days is still a challenge. We often think of exercise as intense workouts but walking is something that has shown to have profound health benefits which may even provide better benefits than running, and it allows us to get outdoors.  Combining exercise with being outdoors may also have a bigger impact than exercising indoors might have. Whilst any exercise, whatever the setting is of course good, there is growing research which tells us that where you exercise is also important.  In one study, researchers found those who exercised outdoors felt more energised, had decreased feelings of anger, confusion and depression, and were more likely to repeat the activity. Therefore, even exercising in the garden may have greater benefits than exercising indoors.

A recent BBC article shared increasing evidence that spending time outdoors amongst ‘green and blue spaces’ can make us healthier and happier than in busy city streets. This article quoted Lisa Nisbet, Associate Professor in the Psychology department at Canada’s Trent University’ who explained that “When you are out in nature you have lower blood pressure, better heart rate variability, better mood”. But whilst this all might sound like time-consuming activities, impossible to introduce into a busy day, the same article shares research from the University of Essex study which showed that ‘when it came to self-esteem and mood, the biggest improvements came in the first 5 minutes of exposure to nature’.

We all know about the many benefits of exercise for our physical and mental health and wellbeing, and many of us often enjoy being outdoors, but we don’t usually think about the benefits these can have on the happiness of our employees and their productivity at work. Introducing plants around where we work and taking breaks to get outdoors will lead to happy colleagues, feeling less stressed and with increased attention and productivity.

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