How Movement Supports Mental Health in the Workplace

25% of adults experience mental health problems each year.  The CIPD’s 2019 report says that 47% of companies rank mental ill health in their top three most common causes of short-term absence. Sadly, it also indicated that senior leaders in only a third of companies encourage a focus on mental wellbeing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 43% of employees (compared with 32% in 2018) attribute ‘management style’ as a cause of stress. 

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Your employees are arguably, your most valuable asset. How would they rate your workplace in terms of mental health and wellbeing support? 

More businesses are realising that mental health must be a priority. Organisations are now upping their game. 70% of this year’s respondents say their organisation’s wellbeing activity is designed to promote mental health to a large or moderate extent, up from 63% last year. Mental health first aiders and resilience training are increasingly common. The investment is a good one, resulting in reduced absence and increased productivity.

How are Physical & Mental Health Linked?

Our physical and mental health are intricately connected, each impacting the other positively or negatively. Mental stress becomes physiological stress, our body has only one response; physical. Stress triggers changes in our endocrine (hormone) and autonomic nervous systems – our control systems acting largely unconsciously to regulate bodily functions and reactions to stress.  A stressed worker can rapidly develop physical and physiological symptoms. 

In this article, we outline how boosting physical health will improve mental health, and reduce employee absence. We also share easy to implement, practical steps to improve wellbeing in your workplace.

What is stress?

Let’s Google ‘Stress’: 

“a state of mental or emotional strain or tension  resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”

Cost of Stress

Stress in the workplace costs Great Britain over £5 billion a year in absence, reduced productivity and additional resources. Stress can cost careers, relationships and lives. 

How Exercise Reduces Stress 

Regular aerobic exercise and resistance exercise both help to reduce stress. As we exercise we expose our body to a higher heart rate and faster metabolic rate without any serious threat or negative tension. Our brain learns that it these symptoms are not a stressor. 65% Of a Perkbox survey’s respondents cited sleep loss as the single biggest impact caused by stress. Physical activity improves sleep (Kline, 2014).

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins (Howlett et al. 1984Boecker et al. 2008). These endorphins cause a mild opiate ‘high’ and corresponding feeling of well-being, as well as light analgesia (Belluzi & Stein 1977Stephano et al. 2000). One paper [Link] found that people with high physical activity are around 20% less likely to suffer from depression, especially for people engaging in over 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. Research reveals long-term effects of physical activity too, it can be as effective as traditional medicine for treating low to moderate depression.

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Work Benefits of Good Mental Health

Physical activity boosts creativity and improves memory and cognitive performance. In the long-term, exercise can also change your brain in a chemical and physiological way. Happy and healthy people are far more likely to enjoy positive and productive relationships with colleagues. People with good mental and physical health are far more likely to fulfil their potential. Now is the time to implement a wellbeing programme that will benefit you, your colleagues and your organisation.

Easy Steps to Support Mental Health in the Workplace

  • Look After You - You are better able to care for others if you are well yourself

  • Encourage a Safe Environment - Build a culture of openness

  • Lead by example - Ensure management are present in all activities

  • Plan the week – Organise the calendar to include regular slots for wellbeing

  • Start small – Simple actions that easily become habit. Aim to increase confidence and encourage further changes. Ten minute walks at lunch, fresh air breaks, use stairs not lifts, encourage mobility

  • Wellness Programme - Host fitness activities are inclusive, responsive, and fun

Movement is a hugely positive step towards improving mental health. Healthy individuals can live a longer, more productive life. It makes total sense to include it in the work environment. 

Chris Pinner