By Mary-Lou MacDonald

Study after study has demonstrated that regular physical activity is critical for good mental health.1 But that’s not only true for someone with a serious mental illness – it’s true for the millions of healthy Canadians who were sent home during the Coronavirus pandemic too.

Studies show that movement and exercise leads to clearer memory, sharper thinking, higher self-esteem, better sleep, more energy and even stronger resilience.2 It gives people a sense of accomplishment and purpose. And the science backs it up. Exercise causes a chemical release of endorphins that actually minimizes pain and improves mood.

During a time of social isolation and increased stress, exercise can be powerful. It allows you to disconnect from work and establish boundaries between your home and work life. It allows you to spend time outside and can encourage interaction – in a socially distanced way – with friends and neighbours.

It’s critical that employers today take steps to promote exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. Some ways employers can support their employees to move more include:

  1. Educate your employees. Leverage your EAP and other online programming to raise awareness, and encourage your employees to move their bodies regularly.
  2. Offer ergonomic assessments. A comfortable employee is a productive employee. While most brought home their laptops during the lockdown, they didn’t bring home their desk chairs. And working at the dining room table or on the living room couch could actually lead to musculoskeletal problems. Encourage your employees to take advantage of an ergonomic assessment to minimize the hazards and ensure proper support.
  3. Provide a fitness platform. Offering a fitness platform can provide a means for employees to invest in their physical health. This may come through your EAP, but it’s best if the employee doesn’t need to pay for it. The platform could offer online fitness classes, education about nutrition and other aspects of physical wellbeing, and even a social connection platform to allow employees to interact virtually.
  4. Encourage flexible working hours. Flexible hours have been the norm since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, but why stop there? As gyms reopen, your employees may want to take advantage of classes offered during the day. They may just enjoy going for a walk midday to stretch their legs. A culture that encourages flexible working hours makes those options not only possible, but even preferable.
  5. Plan for a return to work. When welcoming employees back into the office, keep the physical-mental connection in the forefront. Take steps to encourage continuing activity, including the following:
    • Start competitions related to physical health.
    • Offer corporate gym memberships and EAP use.
    • Encourage walking meetings (i.e., big-picture conversations that don’t require note-taking, or record a conversation to log notes later).
    • Lay out the office to encourage movement (i.e., friendly stairwells, attractive printer and photocopier stations away from work areas).

Contact your HUB Health and Performance consultant to find out how you and your business can better support employee health – both physically and mentally.