How movement can positively impact your health and work performance

8 min read | Hannah Pearsall | Article | Workplace | Wellbeing

Woman running

As a society, we’re frequently reminded of the benefits of regular exercise. The NHS recommends we undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity. However, if you’re working full-time, managing a physical disability or juggling caring responsibilities, finding the time to reach these recommended levels of activity can sometimes prove challenging.

That’s why we want to share a different perspective. If you’re struggling to fit structured workouts into your weekly schedule, this shouldn’t mean you avoid prioritising physical activity altogether. We can all make small changes to our daily routines that limit our sedentary behaviour and increase our levels of movement, which in turn significantly enhances our overall health and productivity levels.

In this article, we’ll delve into:

  • The risks associated with sedentary behaviour. Find out why we should be sitting less and what you can do to mitigate the health risks associated with being stationary for prolonged periods of time.
  • The wide-reaching benefits of moving more. Learn how increased levels of physical movement can have a positive impact, not just on your physical health, but also on your mental wellbeing and work performance.
  • The role organisations can play in increasing movement levels among employees. Discover why it’s beneficial for organisations to encourage their employees to move more – with practical tips on how to achieve this.


The risks associated with sedentary behaviour

Did you know that being physically inactive for 10 or more hours a day is linked to a higher risk of developing dementia later in life? You might be surprised at how easy it can be to clock up the hours on the sedentary clock, especially with our current ways of working. Office-based professionals typically sit in front of a computer screen for more than seven hours a day and many also opt for seated after-work activities like watching television or reading.

While we may not have control over our working hours or the desk-based requirements of our roles, one thing we can do is break up extended periods of physical inactivity during the working day. A break could involve walking across the office space to have a chat with a colleague or going to the kitchen to make a drink. These small routine changes can have a positive impact on your physical and mental health over time, as well as your productivity levels and performance at work.


The wide-reaching benefits of moving more

Let’s explore the wide-reaching benefits of physical movement in more detail:


  • Improved physical health

Increased physical activity will result in you burning more calories per day, which can help with weight management. But did you know that moving more can also reduce your risk of developing long-term health conditions, like type 2 diabetes and certain cancers?

The physical benefits of movement don’t stop there. Exercise improves your cardiovascular health by increasing blood flow and helping you maintain a healthy blood pressure. What’s more, weight-bearing exercises, be it resistance training or carrying groceries home from the supermarket, can strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis.


  • Enhanced mental health

Regular physical movement is proven to be beneficial for your mental health: it relieves stress, reduces anxiety, boosts self-esteem, enhances your mood and improves sleep quality.

Exercise reduces the level of stress hormones in your body – notably adrenaline and cortisol – and it also triggers the release of endorphins, which act as natural painkillers and mood elevators. When your stress levels are lower, you’ll likely have a longer and better night’s sleep.

Hitting your movement targets, which could be 250 steps an hour or 10,000 steps a day, help give you a sense of accomplishment and build your self-esteem. As you increase the amount of physical activity you do, you’ll start to feel more positive about your abilities and motivated to continue pursuing your movement goals as a result.


  • Better work performance

Not only is movement beneficial for your physical and mental health – it also has the potential to positively impact your performance at work. This is because physical activity can improve your productivity levels, concentration and ability to focus on tasks.

Aerobic exercise has been shown to improve the functionality of the hippocampus, the area of the brain involved with memory, learning and emotional regulation. This means that lunchtime walks are not only a great way to switch off from work and immerse yourself in the natural world, but they could also enable you to retain more information and perform better in your job.


The role organisations can play in increasing movement levels among employees

We’ve established that moving more has a whole host of benefits for the individual themselves, but have you considered that it could also lead to better business results?

Encouraging employees to move more could help to raise standards of physical and mental health in an organisation and lead to an overall healthier workforce. Also, since physical activity is associated with higher levels of productivity, it’s in an organisation’s best interest to encourage their employees to move around during the working day.


Here are our top tips for employers wondering how to go about this:

  • Reduce your standard meeting length to 25 or 50 minutes, to give everyone time to move around in-between meetings.
  • Adopt flexible working practices, like flexitime or annualised hours, and communicate these to your employees, so they know they can take regular breaks throughout the day without the fear of negative repercussions.
  • Ensure your business leaders and managers are “movement role models” who regularly take breaks to stretch their legs and are vocal about the benefits of doing this.
  • Encourage initiatives that promote greater movement at work, like run clubs, walking meetings or team step challenges.
  • Share educational resources with your employees about the health benefits associated with physical movement.


For more health and wellbeing tips, take a look at our career advice and market insight pages or explore our free online training courses today.


About this author

Hannah Pearsall, Head of Wellbeing, Hays UK&I

Hannah has over 20 years of recruitment experience across a number of business areas, including construction and property, technology, engineering, energy, social care, human resources and procurement. She is now the Head of Wellbeing at Hays and leads on the design, development, implementation and delivery of a holistic and evolving wellbeing strategy for the UK and Ireland.

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