Medical advances have increased life expectancy, but as a nation we are leading increasingly sedentary lifestyles, spending large chunks of our daily lives sitting down. Indeed, 80% of jobs today are now desk-based and, as employees spend half or more of their waking hours at work, this is contributing to the nation’s increased weight, with more than half of the British population now classed as overweight or obese. Of course, within the fire and rescue service and across the fire community, many roles are active in nature and firefighters need to be physically fit to do what they do. However, for support and control staff there is a danger that they could be sitting for long periods of time and, for those who are retired and no longer working, it can also be hard to find the motivation to be active.
After all, you can do all your shopping online; you can phone or email your colleagues at the other end of the office and you can even check the weather outside from the comfort of your desk. Those of us who aren’t physically active in our jobs can go hours without moving from our computer screens, because everything we need is available at a click of a button. However, physical activity is an essential element of our physical and mental wellbeing and our sedentary lifestyle could be significantly affecting both.
Although it might seem contradictory, exercising can actually help boost your energy levels and cause an overall work performance boost of about 15 per cent, according to a 2005 study performed by health professor Jim McKenna of Leeds Metropolitan University. It also potentially improves your ability to act as a team player, an essential element to productivity. McKenna’s findings note that employees who exercised were less likely to lose their temper with others. Furthermore, a 2008 study from the University of Bristol noted that workers who exercised took 25 percent less unscheduled breaks than those who didn’t.
A work-out for the brain
Additionally, research shows that physical activity increases levels of arousal, causing decreases in reaction time and improvements in memory, which can both improve work productivity. Further evidence, this time from a 2011 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that incorporating just 2.5 hours of exercise per week into the workday led to a noticeable reduction in absences. Perhaps most importantly, fit and healthy workers are less prone to exactly the kinds of preventable illnesses that can take such a heavy toll on families and society.
Physical activity is known to help reduce stress levels too, which can be a huge block in productivity. Chemically, being active helps to lower stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, in turn releasing endorphins which lift the mood and help us to feel good about ourselves. As those who exercise begin to get fitter, accomplish new goals or find day to day activities easier, they often report feeling more positive and able to make decisions more confidently too.
Fitness at work
Of course, having the right workplace culture is important. You may already go to the gym or play a sport and may not have the time to complete a 5k within your lunch break or have the ability to unroll a yoga mat in the middle of your office, but you might be able to make small changes that can make a big difference. Ditch the lift and take the stairs. Forget the email and walk to the other end of the office to talk to your colleagues instead.
So how can we be nudged into making the right choices and get moving? Start by thinking about those times when you find yourself nudging towards making bad choices. For example, if you find the little devil on your shoulder nudges you into buying a cake with your morning coffee, don’t give him the chance by making a coffee at home or taking a healthier snack to work with you instead.
Make the change
For many of us the trigger to changing habits can be a desire to lose weight. However, this can seem like a daunting goal and lead to a lifestyle overhaul that is hard to maintain in the long run. However, when general health and wellbeing is made the focus, we naturally tend to be more mindful of what we eat and how much activity we do in a day. And it can be as simple as taking the stairs and swapping a few of your favourite foods:
- Swap a latte for an Americano with milk
- Swap yoghurt-coated raisins for plain raisins
- Swap salted nuts for unsalted nuts
- Swap pasta for butternut squash spaghetti
- Swap a cereal bar for an apple with a peanut butter dip
And for many of us our bad choices come later in the day; when we’re tired or when we’ve been concentrating for a long period. So try breaking this cycle; perhaps after two hours of sitting, get up and walk 200 steps. Or maybe start a squat challenge; every 3 hours = 1min of squats. If your colleagues think you’re mad, get them involved! Over an 8 hour day that’s enough squats to burn off the calories from a ginger nut biscuit! Hold stand up or walking meetings, you’ll probably find they’re shorter and more productive. And ask your employer whether they offer a cycle to work scheme.
When it comes to food throughout the day make sure you have plenty of high in fibre food to keep you full for longer, and avoid the cakes and chocolate.
There’s also now a wealth of technology available to track your fitness, count your steps and monitor your hear rate. You can use it to challenge yourself, or others; least number of steps in a day has to make the tea for everyone else the following day!
So get together with your colleagues, because activities are always more fun with others. Don’t forget that all the little changes, make one big difference.