Your company may have purchased corporate gym memberships for the employees; unfortunately, it isn’t enough to help them address their health. In fact, it’s not that it isn’t enough, it’s that it misses the root of the problem.
The reason why traditional exercise (i.e., setting aside one hour a day to workout) doesn’t work for most people is it’s not really designed for health.
This is the ugly truth about the health and fitness industry.
For example, gyms thrive not on memberships that people actually use but by selling memberships that people don’t use. 67% of people with gym membership never actually visit the gym. (Having worked in gyms, I’ve seen statistics as high as 80-90%). The same pattern of ineffectiveness can be found in diet pills, fad diets and exercise equipment.
Profit is made in the promise, not the delivery, of transformation.
Currently, traditional methods for working out and exercises push a certain physical aesthetic or athletic performance; not health per se. Although people might feel guilty for not going to gym, I believe they don’t go for good reason. They would rather spend the time furthering their careers or being with their families. Traditional means of exercise don’t address their health needs within the context of their work and home lives.
The health and fitness industry was born out of the bodybuilding era of the 70s where Arnold was encouraging people to ‘Pump Iron” so they could have the chiseled bodies as seen on big screens. While fitness fads may change, the foundation was set.
What do people need? From my experience working with clients and hearing from people working sedentary office jobs, people want more energy, they want to feel less pain, they would like to lose weight, they would like to feel connected with others and they would like to feel happier. They need something that can help them do that while they are at work rather than feeling that work itself is an unhealthy place to be.
It’s not that exercise can’t help people achieve energy and weight loss. It’s that they can realize these goals much more effectively by addressing the source of the problem.
A major factor is that people find themselves stuck in a sedentary work culture.
The other issue if you look at the statistics is only 15% of people meet the Canadian Health guideline* of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week.
The further statistic is only 5% of people get 150 minutes across at least 5 days per week.
You can see the disconnect between current exercise practices and health if you combine the low rate of exercise and the fact that the average Canadian sits 9.5 hours a day.
The nail in the coffin is that according to research, sitting time is not addressed by exercise alone. People are still vulnerable to premature death all causes (e.g., heart disease, cancer) if they sit too much throughout the day.
Coming from a background of bodybuilding and personal training, I had been a proponent of exercise for a long time. This is what I thought healthy looked like:
I was wrong. It wasn’t until I started working a sedentary office job that my health started to deteriorate. I still exercised and ate healthy foods, but I gained weight, felt fatigued and sore all the time. I didn’t realize then that sitting had anything to do with it. I thought I was just getting older.
There is a tremendous human cost with living a sedentary life. The physiological costs occur after every period of prolonged sitting:
- Electrical activity in the legs muscles shut off
- Calorie burning drops to 1 calorie per minute
- Enzymes that help break down fat drop 90%
- Good cholesterol drops 20% after just 2 hours of sitting
- Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day
These add up to high blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes and other preventable diseases over the long term.
The psychosocial costs are significant as well, but they are more difficult to quantify. More research and engagement with wellness programs at the workplace are needed to understand the psychological impact of being sedentary.
What I can share from my personal and clinical experience is that people who are stuck in the seated position for 10 + hours a day tend to have poor relationships with their bodies. Specifically, they have low awareness of their bodies.
They don’t move, skip lunch, don’t sleep well, drink too much coffee and eat poorly. This all happens as a function of surviving through each day. I know because I’ve been there. Coming home exhausted from a long day and just wanting to watch Netflix while eating potato chips until you pass out on the couch.
The cost of having low body awareness is that not listening to your body’s signals throughout the day becomes a habit. Your stomach growls and you ignore it. You feel pain in your back and you ignore it. Your wrists hurt from typing all day and you ignore that too. Over time the learned pattern of ignoring the body’s messages becomes so strong that it is not until there is paralyzing pain that the body is heard.
The pattern of not listening to the body for 10 hours a day is not going to be offset by going to the gym for one hour especially if what happens there is a mindless workout like running on a treadmill while staring at a TV.
Body awareness is a skill particularly in our sedentary culture and it takes daily practice throughout the day.
You can begin right now. Pause for a moment. Take a breath and perhaps close your eyes and ask, “How is my body feeling right now?” Instead of answering from your head let the answer come from whatever part or parts of the body that are feeling something bubbling at the surface.
It could be tension, hunger or desire. Acknowledge what is there and make a promise, if you can, to meet the need that came up. This will build trust and a greater willingness for your body to speak to you again.
The positive possibilities that come from listening and becoming aware of the body are endless. One important benefit from an organizational perspective is that people who listen to themselves and know what they need are more likely to communicate that at the workplace assuming that it is safe to do so. Improving communication at all levels can help companies identify problems at an earlier point and work constructively to resolve them.
Being stuck in a sedentary culture communicates covertly that it is not safe to listen to the body nor to move it when it needs to be moved. People will eventually end their jobs without ever explaining why except maybe at exit interviews when it’s too late.
Healthy movement is not just about physical movement, but psychological and social movement as well.
Companies can build a new culture, a healthy one that encourages individual awareness of their bodies and the collective movement towards health. This will create a greater sense of unity and trust within and between the people in the organization.
At ThinkMOVE, we have built programs and tools that help people in sedentary work cultures learn to listen to their bodies and move throughout the day in ways that help them feel connected to themselves and each other. This increases energy for work and creates a positive experience of work since it supports the employee’s health.
You can try out our free 5 Day Get Moving Challenge here and begin to experience the benefits of freeing the body from stuck patterns.
*According to Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines from CSEP (Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology)