There are so many great ideas to explore when employers decide to take a positive approach to mental wellbeing – but policies and initiatives to encourage physical activity may not always be an obvious starting point.
Yet research consistently shows that being active can have a positive impact on mental health. A study in The Lancet in 2018 found that regular physical activity was associated with improved mental health. Physical activity has also been identified as an effective way of managing depression, alongside other interventions. According to Public Health England, regular physical activity can reduce the risk of developing depression by 30%.
Any employer hoping to achieve positive outcomes for mental wellbeing at work may therefore wish to consider how to enable staff to get active, and to focus on promoting the benefits of moving more.
Being active also reduces the risk of developing a range of other long term conditions. People who do at least 180 minutes of physical activity a week have a 40% reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, a 35% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and a 20% reduced risk of breast cancer. So for HR, wellbeing or occupational health managers, it makes absolute sense to focus on supporting staff to be active, in order to improve the mental and physical health of their workforce.
There are lots of ways to encourage staff to get moving. A few ideas include:
- Installing standing desks
- Encouraging walking meetings
- Signage encouraging people to take the stairs instead of the lift
- Enabling staff to use their breaks to be active
- Encouraging and enabling active travel to work by providing facilities including bike lockers, showers, and a cycle to work scheme
- Supporting and promoting staff to develop walking or running clubs at lunchtime or after work
- Providing a space on-site for staff to attend yoga or fitness classes
- Developing partnerships with local gyms or leisure facilities to offer staff discounts
- Promoting all these offers and initiatives internally so staff are aware of what is available to them
- Practising and modelling effective workload management so staff feel able to take up these opportunities.
Employers in Leeds are already doing so much to support their staff to be active. Leeds City Council loans out e-bikes for active travel, as well as enabling staff to run fitness classes on-site at Merrion House, and providing standing desks. Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust hosts an on-site gym and a full programme of classes, while city centre business Wellington Place celebrated walking month in 2019 by offering a full programme of guided walks.
Workplaces offer loads of potential to support people to do more activity – but as more and more of us rely on a computer and a desk to do our jobs, and less and less of us have physical occupations, our changing work habits are also part of the reason why we’ve become more inactive as a population. In fact, according to Public Health England, we’re actually 20% less active now than we were in the 1960s.
But if the population as a whole is getting less active, what can we do as individuals – and as a city – to reverse this trend?
This question is at the heart of a new campaign called Get Set Leeds.
Get Set Leeds is a citywide conversation about how Leeds could become more active. It’s a partnership between Public Health, Active Leeds, Sport Leeds, Leeds Beckett University and the Leeds Health Partnerships Team. We know that being active is good for health, but it’s not always easy to get moving every day. So we’re keen to hear what people are saying about what gets in the way of being active, and to gather great ideas about what would encourage more people in the city to get moving more often.
There’s a website offering people the chance to have their say at: getsetleeds.co.uk
The website is also full of ideas for ways to get active, features a news section and includes people’s stories.
It also has a dedicated section for employers and workers to have their say from a professional perspective.
Does your employer encourage you to be active? And are you inspired by your work colleagues to move more? What support would your workplace need to inspire people to be more active?
If you have an opinion about any of these issues, please share your ideas at getsetleeds.co.uk, or get in touch via [email protected].
If you do loads to support staff to be active, we’d love to feature your story on the website – or if you’re passionate about the benefits of activity and you’d like to be more involved, we’d love to hear from you too. Be part of the conversation – together we can make Leeds a more active city.