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Why leaders should be promoting exercise in the workplace

By Jack Campbell | |5 minute read

Everyone knows that exercise can promote a healthy lifestyle, but did you know it can help to boost efficiency in the workplace?

Exercising can help to improve energy, which can help us to work more effectively, said Dr Brett Lillie, author of Rediscover Your Athlete Within.

“This is a very big question, as life is all about managing energy levels. To start with, when we talk about exercising and energy, we have to remember that one strategy doesn’t fit all. The way you exercise has to work for you, and your body builds energy in its own unique way, creating a specific profile,” Dr Lillie said.


“Movement is the fastest way for us to build energy. The entirety of the brain connects more to the body, the dashboard is turned on, and the energy dials start to wake up: you breathe more, you sleep better, you sync better with your internal rhythm, and you regulate your food intake. Moving allows us to get into our own rhythm and live at a higher energy level.”

So, how can we put this information to use and maximise our work potential? Dr Lillie said this movement helps to increase our brain’s functionality.

“When you’re in sync with your internal clock and you are moving, your brain makes more associations. At a neurological level, this means that rather than getting stuck into one part of your brain, you take advantage of all the amazing functions that your brain has on offer,” he explained.

“Movement ignites creativity [and] increases brain plasticity and capacity. You are supercharged, so ideas start to pop up, strategies can improve, you can find different avenues to solve problems. Movement allows you to utilise more of your brain power and fosters your innate ability to create.”

With this in mind, it can be beneficial for employers to encourage exercise in the workplace. Five tips outlined by Dr Lillie are:

  1. Educate: Tell employees why it is important to move.
  2. Prime the team: Start the day with a readiness (movement) meeting, so you get the team in the perfect state to ready, set and tackle the day at maximum capacity.
  3. Encourage: Support your team, encourage them to be active and be creative in the way they add movement to their work environment. Walk to your next meeting, or when you plan with your colleagues, stand up and use a whiteboard and markers (writing is movement, too).
  4. Create opportunities: Some companies organise classes at lunch for their employees, offering opportunities that can promote a shift in perceptions and promote change.
  5. Embed movement into the culture: Deep cultural change comes from the top down. Across the company, chunk out meeting times and free up schedules to allow for movement and creativity. You can also create a break-out area in the office with fun activities: ping pong is a classic way to break the 3pm slump and reset to finish the day with purpose and on a high.

While it’s important for employers to do their part to encourage exercise, it ultimately falls to the individual to make the choice to pick up these healthy habits. Finding time with a busy schedule can be hard, but planning can make it easier to keep track of.

“Anyone who plans ahead and is a long-term thinker is never in a rush and always seems to have time up their sleeves. If you’re trying to inject more time into your day, your morning, or even the next hour, you need to create a wider time perspective, and the answer lies in the big picture,” said Dr Lillie.

“One of the things I make my clients do is start thinking of time in a three-week cycle. You may not fit everything in seven days (that includes exercise), but if your schedule is broader, you will find gaps where you can be active, and constraints will transform into possibilities.”

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.