Helping workplaces stay active

Carl Greenwood, Senior Development Officer, Paths for All.

Keeping physically active in-and-around the working day has lots of benefits for both employees and employers. Staff who are physically active are more productive, take fewer sick days, and are more focused. Being active also has benefits for mental wellbeing and reducing stress as well as being good for our physical health[1].

At Paths for All, we believe walking is the simplest way to become and stay active and meet the recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of accumulated physical activity a week[2]. It’s hassle-free, no special equipment is required, most people can take part and it fits easily it into daily routines.

Pre-pandemic, through our workplace walking programmes such as Step Count Challenge www.stepcount.org.uk we would promote walking by encouraging active meetings with colleagues, walking or wheeling to work and moving away from the desk and speaking to a colleague rather than emailing them.

The sudden lockdown in spring 2020 changed the way many of us work overnight. Gone was the daily commute, the noise and hubbub of the office and chats with our work-pals at the watercooler or kettle. For those of us not furloughed or classed as key workers, in came trying to find a quiet space in our houses to work, back-to-back Zoom calls and what sometimes felt like hopeless attempts at maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

A year and a half later, many of us are still working from home and have found ways to work efficiently from our spare rooms and kitchens. Even though some offices are opening their doors again, it looks likely that home working will remain in place with many employers adopting hybrid models of working, with staff splitting their time between home and the office.

We’ve had to adapt to this new way of working as well and have refocused our support for workplaces to meet the needs of home workers and support and motivate them through what has been a year of disruption and uncertainty.

Working from home we found that we were all sitting more and moving less. In normal times, walking would be part of our commute to work or trip to the shops at lunchtime. Now, Zoom meetings and phone calls mean long periods spent sitting, something which is linked to poor health.

We have been encouraging people to move throughout their day to break up that sedentary behaviour. We have provided simple activity challenges, shared tips on keeping active and created some simple One Minute Movers that people could slot into their day.

With restrictions on the amount of time we could spend outdoors, at least in the first lockdown, we wanted to put an emphasis on quality rather than quantity and really make the most of our time outdoors.

We provided easy-to-access information on the latest government guidance for outdoor activity, tips on connecting with nature and really celebrated the simple pleasure of finding new walking routes on your doorstep.

Most of us will have felt overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or down to some degree over the past year. Promoting good mental health was one of our key aims. Walking, and particularly walking in nature, can have a really positive effect on our mental health and wellbeing. It can provide a change of scenery that disrupts routines and that sense of deja-vu or cabin fever.

We shared blog posts on this subject and resources like our Mind to Walk mindfulness podcast.

We also carried out some research with colleagues at the University of Edinburgh looking at the impact on participants’ mental wellbeing during our spring Step Count Challenge. This found that over 90% of people completing a post-challenge survey felt that they could cope better with Covid-19 and lockdown as a result of taking part in the challenge.

Since March 2020 we’ve seen a significant increase in the numbers of people taking part in the Step Count Challenge, 12,000 people have participated in challenges over the past 18 months. Around 67% of participants were working from home with key workers making up the majority of other participants. Interestingly, one of the main motivators for workplaces taking part was to bring staff together and connect virtually using our walking challenge.

Building some walking and activity into your day is fairly easy and straightforward, but it can seem like a struggle with emails piling up and now we’re into autumn the weather and shorter days can be an added barrier. If you are looking for some ideas on being more active in-and-around the working day, here are some suggestions that will hopefully get you off on the right foot.

Plan your day

Planning your day and building some activity into your routines. Make a habit of going for a daily lunchtime walk, schedule time in your diary for breaks to move around. Use some of the suggestions below to set yourself daily goals.

Get set-up

Make sure your equipment set up at home is right for you. Thinking about your posture and the position of your hands and feet will help prevent back pain and other problems. The NHS have some excellent advice on this.

Stretch it out

Take regular active breaks from your desk or table and enjoy a stretch when you do. Set regular reminders and try out our simple, no-sweat One Minute Mover exercises https://www.stepcount.org.uk/blog/try-our-one-minute-movers.

Make your lunch break an active one

Eating well and staying hydrated throughout the day is important no matter where you work, but don't make your lunch hour all about lunch. A lunchtime walk or wheel is a perfect way to get your daily exercise and rejuvenate your body and mind for the afternoon ahead. If your route has some green space, which can reduce stress, even better. If it’s a nice day, pack a lunch and eat al fresco.

Get connected

Stay in touch with your colleagues and wider team using email, phone or online messaging apps. Share pictures of your standing desks or lunchtime walking adventures to inspire others or even do some communal activity classes. At Paths for All, we’ve been running a weekly yoga session with staff.

Move more

Think about what opportunities there are to move while working. Go for a walk around your home or garden while taking a work call or move between different rooms of your house if you have a laptop. Make use of the stairs at home if you have them by taking a few trips up and down before making your mid-morning coffee.

Join us

The autumn Step Count Challenge starts on Monday 25 October and there is still time to register your workplace. Find out more here: https://www.stepcount.org.uk/blog/join-us-for-the-autumn-step-count-challenge-2021

[1] https://www.healthyworkinglives.scot/workplace-guidance/health-improvement/Pages/physical-activity.aspx
[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/physical-activity-guidelines 

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