Encourage physical activity to improve employee mental wellbeing
A recently publicised report from the World Health Organisation not only found that four in ten British women do not do enough exercise to stay healthy, but that the proportion of inactive people has risen since 2016 which experts believe is partly due to more sedentary jobs.
Many adults in the UK spend more than seven hours a day sitting and the NHS have advised office-based workers with an increased sedentary lifestyle to spend less time sitting throughout the day and to break up long periods of sitting with shorter bouts of physical activity.
Whilst exercise is great for physical health and fitness, evidence shows that being physically active is also one of the most effective ways to improve mental wellbeing.
Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on mood, depression, anxiety and more.
The mental health benefits of physical activity
Scientists believe that physical activity can help people with mild depression and evidence shows that it can also help protect people against anxiety.
Physical activity is thought to cause chemical changes in the brain, which can help to positively change our mood.
Scientists believe that being active can improve wellbeing because it brings about a sense of greater self-esteem, self-control and the ability to rise to a challenge.
Mental wellbeing in the workplace
The Government's Department of Health advises that one in four of us will experience mental ill health at some point in our lives.
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
A Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development study found that, for the first time, stress is the major cause of long-term absence and mental ill health costs employers in the UK £30 billion every year through lost production, recruitment and absence.
Staff with good mental health are more likely to perform well, have good attendance levels and be engaged in their work.
Workplace physical activity programmes that foster a happier, healthier and more motivated team help reduce stress, increase work attendance and have a positive impact on productivity.
Promoting positive mental health in the workplace through physical activity can therefore be hugely beneficial.
Chris Mitchell, Managing Director of Workplace Virtuathon, explains, “Workplace physical activity programmes where employees ‘challenge’ and ‘compete’ with each other are fantastic at encouraging already physically active employees to become more active. However, they can pressurise the less physically confident employees to participate or leave them feeling excluded which potentially compounds workplace mental health conditions, including stress and anxiety.
To effectively engage the least physically active employees, workplace physical activity programmes must address the common barriers to physical activity which are typically cited as a lack of confidence, motivation, know-how, time and cost.
The ideal programme must therefore set a realistic and personal goal, build confidence and knowledge through clear guidance, education and regular motivation and then reward successful achievement.”
Inspiring the least physically active employees
Workplace Virtuathon was launched earlier this year to help HR managers develop employees’ physical and mental wellbeing, performance and motivation to inspire a healthier workforce.
Their CPD accredited, eight week programme is aligned to the standards set by the Workplace Wellbeing Charter, the accreditation standard that is built on best practice, and is influenced by the suggested Five Ways to Mental Wellbeing set out in the Government's Foresight report; Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give – a set of evidence-based actions to improve personal wellbeing.
“Employees don’t need to be fitness fanatics to take part in Workplace Virtuathon – this definitely isn’t about enrolling at a gym, spending endless hours training or challenging work colleagues”, explains Mitchell.
“The structured eight week programme, delivered daily via mobile app, is about building confidence and supporting employees kick-start their own personal healthier lifestyle, both in and out of the workplace, through daily education, guidance and motivation – making it ideal for beginners and the least physically active employees.”
Participating employees complete their Workplace Virtuathon with a 'personal' physical activity challenge as a walk, jog or a run wherever is convenient for them; in the local park or on a treadmill, individually or with colleagues and at their own pace.
Successful completion is rewarded with a Virtuathon achievement medal and, where relevant, 20 verifiable CPD points from the CPD Standards Office.
Mitchell continues, “The feedback from surveyed participating employees has been highly positive with 100% recommending Workplace Virtuathon and agreeing it has encouraged positive healthy habits making them feel fitter and healthier than before they started the programme.”
Feedback comments include, "I thoroughly enjoyed completing my Workplace Virtuathon and found the tips and support very helpful. I liked the fact that you could choose how you wanted to do it – I chose to do a 5K walk – you weren't pressured into running. I feel much healthier and fitter, and have even lost a bit of weight."
Another employee agreed, "Brilliant, keeps you motivated during a busy day! I loved the fact I could fit it around my life.”
Workplace Virtuathon is provided FREE for employees, as it’s paid by their employer, and is affordably priced based upon the size of the organisation, e.g., an company with less than 50 employees would currently pay only £395 (ex VAT) in total.
VIRTUATHON SEEN IN
Inspire a more physically active, healthier and motivated workforce by offering Workplace Virtuathon to your employees.
Acknowledgements, resources and further reading
Get active for mental wellbeing - Stress, anxiety and depression
Royal College of Psychiatrists
Physical Activity and Mental Health
Physical activity, sport and exercise
Mental Health Foundation
How to look after your mental health using exercise
Mental health in the workplace