Fit exercise into your work day

Pressure, long hours and the stress of the modern workplace have led many employers to offer free fitness regimes to their staff

Studies have shown that access to fitness programmes in the workplace improve employees’ overall health and wellbeing

Studies have shown that access to fitness programmes in the workplace improve employees’ overall health and wellbeing


Work, in any sector, can be a demanding beast and for many, the days of nine to five are long gone. Increased workloads, ongoing pressure to reach deadlines and never being able to truly switch off, is common for many employees.

Being fit, leading to greater overall physical and mental fitness, is now key to many employees successfully navigating the workplace.

“I do need to be physically fit for my job,” says Niamh, a 26-year-old project manager with an educational organisation. “It’s a pretty demanding role and I’m on my feet a lot of the time, going between my office to the classroom or out to conferences or meetings with different partners. I need to be physically able to keep up with all that.”

Part of her job is working with adults who have been affected by various social issues and who have returned to education. Feeling that she is physically strong also helps her feel more prepared for any potential dangers in the classroom.

“It’s just to feel prepared in case any fights or attacks happen, as I have had experience of that before. You need to be able to defend yourself and sometimes I’m in a one-to-one situation with people, so I just like to feel that I am physically strong in that regard too if anything ever happens.”

Exercise has now become an integral part of Niamh’s daily life after she had to take six weeks off last year when she developed a severe viral infection.

Stress was identified as the root cause. Her workload was never going to change and once she was back to full health, she decided to get into better shape physically.

“Now I’m much happier at work. I don’t let things get to me as much and I’m not as stressed, even though I still have a lot on. If you are physically fit you usually have better mental health. In turn, your work will be better quality. For me, I come home from work exhausted and maybe a little bit stressed. But two hours later I might have boxercise or go for a walk with the dog. I feel so much better after it, it gives me energy. I sleep a whole lot better and am completely fresh for the following day.”

Stress is fast becoming a top health issue in workplaces. A survey carried out in 2013 by the Aviva Workplace Health Index showed that 74 per cent of employees agreed the workplace had become increasingly stressful, while 72 per cent believed a pressurised environment had become the norm.

Dr Sasha Jairam, a doctor with Employment Health Advisors (EHA) in Limerick, provides occupational health services to a wide variety of industries.

She meets with hundreds of employees each year while carrying out medical assessments and health surveillances in workplaces around the mid-west. Through her work, it is also clear to her that stress is the top health issue for employees.

“These days, it’s not so much musco-skeletal injury that we’re dealing with, it’s mainly stress,” she says.

“It’s about 50/50 between personal stress and work stress. In work, it’s an increased workload and increased demands on the employee. I see at least two or three stress cases per day and we are a relatively small practice in Limerick, so it’s not even as big as Cork or Dublin, which have even bigger populations.”

Being able to incorporate exercise into a daily routine can pay off wonders for the employee. It also has a lot of benefits to the employer and may be the reason why an increasing number of companies are providing access to physical well-being programmes on their site.

“All evidence has shown when you do have workplace fitness programmes and you get employees involved in activity, it does benefit in the long term,” says Dr Jairam.

“It does contribute to a lower sickness absence. Studies in the US and Germany would show trends that in workplaces where they don’t have a gym, you see a lot more of the typical western diseases, obesity and high blood pressure etc.

“One company that I’ve seen providing a gym is in the Shannon industrial estate. And it’s absolutely amazing because they have almost 100 per cent participation – employees go in on their breaks for free classes and it’s been great for health promotion. However, those sort of facilities are not always available but a lot of people will go for a walk or run at lunchtime. It definitely helps to decompress by doing some sort of activity.”

Eimear Leonard, a 33-year-old administrative officer working in recruitment puts in an average of 50 hours per week. When she started her job there was already a backlog of work to get through, along with meeting all the other demands of her position.

“There’s various pressure from various places, but all for legitimate reasons. For example, someone might need to have a new staff member in place ASAP. And then you also have new staff coming in who have to pay their creche or mortgage fees and you need to have all their paperwork sorted for their pay cheque, so you’re not having any knock-on effect on their personal lives. You’re always thinking a month in advance and getting things out quickly.”

Leonard likes to keep fit, in particular for the mental benefits it brings. Her workplace offers a discounted gym membership to its employees, which she sees as a perk, but not one she can always avail of.

“The mental benefit of exercise is definitely what I find great about it. The endorphins and just generally feeling a lot better when you’re active. The flip side of that, is that work is so stressful at the moment and I’m putting in such long hours it’s actually very difficult to get a time to get to the gym.

“You’re also snacking more and eating worse food, so in my experience working long hours is counterproductive to fitness. I’m still able to do my job obviously but when I get to exercise I sleep better so I wake up feeling more well-rested and have more stamina for the day. I’m now down to two days per week instead of four at the gym and I do notice myself that I feel better when I go, and more mentally able for the work when I’m active.”

The demands of the modern workplace are unlikely to slow down, but creating a good working environment can help with employees’ overall health. Niamh, who pays for her own gym classes, would love to see every employer offering some type of fitness opportunity to their staff.

“It all keeps coming back to the mental health aspect and de-stressing after work. Every job, no matter what it is, is stressful at some stage. Offering the gym or some kind of class to employees means that they’ll have a fitter workforce but it’s also a sign that they care about their workers. If you finish work at 5.30 and can go to a class at six after a hard day’s work, then you’re going home happier and healthier and coming in with a much more positive attitude the next day. You spend a lot of time in work so you may as well give the best you can, and feel the best you can too.”

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