January is often a time when people look at the blank slate of a new year and vow to improve their health by setting new fitness goals. But with COVID-19 worries and restrictions, your employees may be finding it hard to get back on track.
Yet now is when the physical and mental benefits of exercise really can come in handy. Along with aerobic benefits, exercise is great for sleep, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, and managing stress.
Employers are in a unique position to help employees fit in more exercise. That might mean being more flexible with schedules, organizing fitness groups, or offering stipends for virtual fitness classes. The upsides of making it a companywide effort are many –– having strong social connections at work is associated with better health, more frequent exercise, and higher job engagement, according to Physical Activities Breaks for the Workplace from the Centers for Disease Control.
Here are more tips on how you can help your employees get back in the fitness game:
Start the morning out right
Many Americans check their work email before they even get out of bed in the morning. That might not be the healthiest of behaviors, but it does offer a chance to help people start their day on a positive note.
Consider sending out a daily email newsletter with nutrition and fitness highlights from your company wellness program, links to free online exercise videos (the American Council on Exercise offers a free video library), or discounts or reimbursements for virtual fitness classes or exercise equipment.
For those who find it tough to get themselves moving in the morning, especially when it’s chilly outside, you could recommend they leave their workout clothes somewhere where they’ll get nice and toasty like near a heater. Or, if it’s safe, suggest a form of exercise that defies the season –– like swimming laps in a heated pool or signing up for a virtual yoga class.
This can also be a good time to introduce other healthy morning routines, like starting the day with 10 to 15 minutes of meditation. Mindfulness exercises like meditation are great for helping relieve stress and anxiety.
Expand the idea of exercise
Exercise can be an intimidating word. For some, it conjures up images of sweating on a treadmill or being barked at by a (virtual) trainer. However, exercise doesn’t have to be intense or require special equipment.
“Exercise is meant to enhance functional movement and health. That’s it,” says Alexandra Allred, fitness instructor and author of 13 Able: Exercise Therapy for Everyone. “It doesn’t mean you have to run, leap, squat, or bound. It can be done from a chair.” In fact, a five-minute stretch break can help people strengthen their muscles and avoid injury from a less-than-ideal workstation setup at home.
To make your efforts as inclusive as possible, provide tips that consider the obstacles some employees might face when trying to exercise, including health and financial limitations, child care struggles, and whether they are working from home or not.
Start with small, manageable suggestions, says Alex Link, certification program manager at the American Council on Exercise, such as:
- Taking conference calls on the go, either at home or in the office, for walk-and-talk meetings.
- Doing lunges on the way to and from one room to the other.
- Reading or composing emails while standing up.
- Doing a chore like mopping the kitchen floors or raking leaves that requires a little physical exertion.
- Getting involved in the kids’ activities like jumping rope, playing tag, or having a snowball fight.
- Renting snowshoes, cross-country skis or ice skates through a local park district or forest preserve for an outdoor workout.
Get people walking
Walking is a perfect, equal-opportunity activity: It’s free, can be done almost anywhere, and it works for people of many fitness levels. Going on two 15-minute brisk walks five days a week is all it takes to meet the minimum recommended amount of physical activity for adults each week. If the weather outside is too frightful, encourage employees to march in place or run on a treadmill if they have one. It might feel silly at first, but marching still counts for getting in those steps.
“If you can walk outside safely, you get the added benefits of inhaling fresh air, soaking up some sunshine, and enjoying some screen-free time,” Link says. If winter means gray skies, it’s even more important to get outside, even if just for a few minutes, every day. Proper winter attire like a pair of insulated boots and wool socks can make all the difference in being able to brave the elements. Your company could consider a partnership with a sporting goods store to offer discounts on winter gear for your employees.
To really get your employees’ blood pumping, host an activity competition through work. When people have a shared exercise goal, that boosts motivation and camaraderie, Allred says.
Choose an end date, and have everyone track their exercise time, for example, walking (indoors or out), on a shared spreadsheet. Don’t forget to schedule a virtual celebration for when the competition is over. And don’t just cheer people who exercised the most — cheer those who upped the amount of time they exercised each week. If you offer Rally®, use Rally Health Challenges to easily implement this.
Mark it on the schedule
Just like important meetings, exercise becomes a habit when it’s a regular part of the schedule, Link says. Help your employees find time to exercise by etching it into the workday.
That might mean designating 15 or 20 minutes a day as companywide fitness time, encouraging everyone to get away from their desks and do some lunges and jumping jacks or lift some hand weights. Or, if the majority of your employees are still working remotely (and therefore have access to showers and a change of clothes), you could host daily virtual workouts, with people participating to live or previously recorded fitness classes.
“These planned exercise dates are a great time when you know other people are complaining through the same plank or mini-squat,” Allred says.
Regardless of how you encourage your employees to stay fit, the act of simply providing that support is worthwhile. When people feel supported in their fitness goals, they’re more likely to reach them.
Fitness Tips to Get Your Team Back on Track
Here are three stories to share with your employees for some fitness inspiration:
For banishing stiff necks and achy backs:
How the right cold weather gear can take the sting out of outdoor exercise:
Why winter workouts are real winners: