People think about their health a lot these days – and with good reason. When so many of us spend so much of our working days in front of a computer, it is essential to find ways of keeping fit and introducing variety into our daily routines.
Many executives don’t follow strict exercise and dietary regimes simply to keep physically fit – they find it takes their mind off work and helps them sleep better at night.
One comprehensive study that proves that physical fitness and mental wellbeing go together was conducted in Austin, Texas, between 2003 and 2007. Part-funded by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the project offered more than 1,200 public transport staff the use of personal trainers, a 24-hour fitness center, dietary counselling and help with giving up smoking.
Participants typically became more active, lost weight, reduced their blood pressure and switched to healthier food. And although the programme cost money in the first three years, it saved money in the ensuing two. It also reduced absenteeism by 25%. Over a five-year period, the overall return on the investment was calculated to be 2.43.
There are plenty of simple things we can do in the workplace to make these things available without much capital outlay – such as encourage people to cycle to work or serve healthier food in staff restaurants. Yet it’s remarkable how slow many companies have been in taking these steps to improving their staff’s all-round health.
A reluctance to spend money on employee wellbeing is a classic example of short-termism, or plain narrow-mindedness. Any enlightened employer should accept that staff health is only going to become even more important. Poor diets, rising stress and poor health are all factors that can eat into your bottom line.
There are times, however, when we become overloaded with propaganda about exercise and healthy eating. It’s not the whole picture, after all. In my view, being fit for work is less about working out at the gym and more about achieving a suitable balance in life. And people find their equilibrium in different ways. I will happily admit that I find gyms boring – I much prefer tennis or sailing.
We should also remind ourselves of what the Eastern philosophers have taught us about allowing time for contemplation. The practice of yoga is an obvious example of the way this approach has been incorporated into the health regimes of successful business people.
There was a Chinese writer called Lin Yutang who spent much of his later life in the US and acquired a worldwide following in the mid-20th century with his updated brand of Confucianism, mixing Eastern philosophy with Western humour.
He suggested that: “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”
It’s one reason why I don’t believe in being too prescriptive when it comes to health. Give people the opportunity to exercise, by all means. But above all, give them time to think.