Squeeze Exercise into the Work Day

employee wellbeing
Exercise during the work day? You might be thinking, "I don't have time for that." If that's what's going through your mind, it's going through your employees' minds too. Research says you should make time.

As part of Employee Wellbeing Month, we're highlighting the importance (and benefits!) of regular exercise - during the work day. That's not to say your employees should be going for a 20-mile bike ride at lunch; simply getting up and moving around can make a huge difference. Creating a company culture that makes this possible - offering things like flexible work schedules, or perhaps access to gyms and on-site showers - can be a game changer in maintaining employee wellbeing.


Sitting too often and for extended periods of time is unhealthy - it can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.  Luckily, there are many different things employees can do during the work day to get moving.

According to Alan Hedge, professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, for every 30 minutes someone works in an office, he or she should sit for 20 minutes, stand for eight minutes, and move around and stretch for two minutes. Employees who see colleagues sitting for hours on end are likely to assume it's the office standard to sit down and zone in on work. So, employers, it's up to you to set the right standard...get up and move around.

Encouraging a company culture that emphasizes face-to-face communication will also give employees more opportunity - and reason - to walk around the office. Set an example by walking to employees' desks instead of sending emails off to employees in the department next to yours, or calling employees who work on the floor above you.


Steve Jobs was famous for his "walking meetings," and rightly so. A Stanford study found that walking (either inside or outside) boosts creativity. No matter the environment, creativity levels were higher for people who were walking versus people who were sitting. People also experienced increased creativity shortly after returning from a walk.

There's more. When employees integrate exercise into their work days, they also feel lower levels of stress, a fairly common emotion in the workplace. According to Michael Otto, a professor of psychology at Boston University, there's a strong link between exercise and mood. When people exercise, their brains release serotonin, a neurotransmitter that improves state of mind, making it easier to handle stress. Less stressed employees are more productive - and more pleasant to be around.

So, if possible, encourage employees to take their meetings on the road.


I used to be a "work through lunch" type - I thought it would make me more productive, help me get my work done faster, and consequently allow me to leave earlier at the end of the day. But the opposite happened. The longer I sat at my desk, the less productive - and more distracted - I became. Not to mention, I often forgot what I ate for lunch (and let's face it, food is something I'd like to remember).

So, I decided to try working out at lunch - something that I feel comfortable doing due to my company's flexibility and my manager's support. Now, I go for a 40-minute run two to three days each week during my lunch break - so, yes, I do end up eating lunch at my desk when I return. However, the difference is, instead of working through lunch, I come back from exercising feeling reenergized and ready to tackle the second half of the day - and I get a lot more done.

In addition to individual exercise, encourage group activities. At Bright Horizons, we declared March "Live Smart Month" and had a friendly "Walk-Off" competition. The goal was to improve wellbeing, to get people up and moving as much as possible throughout the work day by offering a little prize at the end. Not only did this get people up from their desks, it encouraged communication amongst colleagues, as many went walking together.

Research shows that incorporating just two and a half hours of exercise per week into the workday led to a noticeable reduction in absences. Healthy workers are also less prone to debilitating illnesses that take a heavy toll on families, and consequently, the workplace.

Employers who make exercise a possibility at work are a step ahead of the rest - and it's resulting in healthy, productive employees.  
Bright Horizons
About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
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