03 Jun Boosting workplace mental health through exercise
Workplace mental health is becoming more important than ever. The challenges facing today’s workforce are well documented. Dealing with depression and anxiety in the corporate world is increasingly commonplace due to increasing time and financial pressures.
But it’s not all bad news. There are some simple solutions that can help individuals and companies better manage stress, mental well-being, and improve productivity.
Key factors that contribute to better mental health
There are some core habits that we can all implement into our day-to-day lives to improve positive mental well-being. These include:
Time out, distraction & disassociation
Find time and get away from stressful environments. If those desk hours are building up, there’s no better way to balance that out than getting physical. Your focus becomes internal within movement, rather than on the thoughts and pressures of your day.
Self-mastery is the feeling of accomplishment when you succeed at a task. When the body experiences movement, even just a simple lunch time walk, we get that immediate feeling of self-mastery.
This is all about the realisation that you have control. For most of us, our work hours and daily tasks are governed by our company and our manager. But when you break up your day (or week) by going to the gym, to that class, or for a walk in the park, that is YOUR choice. It creates the feeling of autonomy which is key for psychological health.
A critical factor for improved mental well-being and psychological health is spending time with others. Go for a walk with a colleague in your lunch break, start the day with a group class that inspires you, or finish the day off with a training session with your coach. It’ll all help to boost positive interactions and stop the build-up of stress.
This is your belief in your ability to achieve a task or goal. If you’ve got a well-planned training plan, it can build your confidence in your physical ability. This flows through to other aspects of your life and helps with stress management.
How does exercise boost workplace mental health?
Exercise boosts your mood, decreases anxiety and improves sleep quality. And it doesn’t take much… Research shows that as little as 10 minutes of exercise a day improves our calm energy and vigour.
So, how exactly does being active help? Exercise:
- Increases serotonin release – which results in improved sleep cycles, pain reduction and improved sense of overall wellbeing.
- Reduces blood pressure and cardiovascular responses – this improves our coping mechanisms to stressful situations.
- Releases endorphins – which boosts immune system, reduces sick days, and postpones ageing.
- Releases dopamine – which increases our sense of pleasure and satisfaction. We just feel good!
- Increases oxygen delivery to the brain – improving cognitive function and continues improving the more you move regardless of age.
What types of exercise work best?
Aerobic conditioning that involves rhythmic breathing is great for your mental health. It also helps to plan your workouts. Knowing what you’re going in to and having a well-structured program improves your confidence and chances of success. This also helps to track your progression and accomplishments.
Lastly, make sure you work out in a positive and comfortable environment – find what works for you. Public gyms can be intimidating and are not for everyone, and that’s ok.
You should aim for a minimum of 3 sessions per week of moderate intensity (20-30 mins) to benefit your mental health. However, to ensure your physical health is fully addressed, you should try to increase activity levels to meet physical activity guidelines. These guidelines are 5 days per week, 30-60 minutes per day of moderate activity, or 15-30 minutes per day of vigorous activity, including at least 2 sessions of muscle strengthening activity.
How can companies help their employees?
The corporate environment – with the demands of long hours, financial pressures and competition – is a place of increasing stress. Because of this, many companies are starting to invest in health and wellness programs.
This list is far from extensive, but is a good starting point for business owners wanting to boost workplace mental health:
It’s important to educate staff on the benefits of activity. If the workforce is more aware of the benefits of movement then it helps to create autonomy – people start deciding to do it themselves. It’s important that both staff and management understand the link between physical health and mental well-being.
Taking time-out for exercise improves productivity whilst reducing stress. Management must lead by example and openly participate and encourage activity during work hours (7, 25). Employees are concerned that by leaving during the day to exercise they risk being reprimanded. This is one of the most significant barriers to staff engagement in physical well-being programs. Time out each day leads to a happier and healthier workplace and ultimately, a more successful business!
Lower desk time expectations
Excessive time at the desk accompanied with a lack of movement has clear implications for physical and mental well-being and workforce productivity. Research shows that for a standard 40-hour work week, replacing 2.5 work hours (15%) with exercise will equate to greater productivity along with lower depression and anxiety. Basically, you work less time but produce better quality than someone who stayed at the desk for 40 hours.
Focus on individuals
Generic health and wellness plans for the workforce do not work. Different things work for different people so investment should focus on individual needs. This often requires a greater financial investment, but it’s offset by improved productivity gains and reduction in costs (e.g. sick days) over the long run.
Want more advice?
Whether you’re a business owner, manager or employee – workplace mental health matters. If you’d like more advice on how exercise can benefit you and your team, talk to your local exercise expert.
If you are ever feeling overwhelmed, please reach out to someone. You’ll find some great resources below:
David is the Co-founder and Head Performance Coach at Absolute Health & Performance. He has 15+ years’ experience both in Australia and internationally in professional sports, multidisciplinary sports medicine centres and fitness centres.
Full reference list available on request.