If you follow news about health and well-being, you’ve probably heard the common refrain, “Sitting is the new smoking.” A review of studies from 1996-2011 found that the average American spends 7 to 10 hours sitting per day. And a New York Times article titled, “The Couch Potato Goes Global,” lays out the startling numbers from a 2012 World Health Organization study: “31.1 percent of the world’s adults, or about 1.5 billion people, are almost completely sedentary, meaning that they do not meet the minimum recommendation of 150 minutes of walking or other moderate activity per week, or about 20 minutes a day.”
One of the most important ways you can support your team as a manager is encouraging them to move. While it may not seem like a key part of your role to keep an eye on the activity levels of everyone on your team, a healthier team equals a happier, more productive team. Study after study shows that regular exercise keeps you physically and mentally sharper. As we note in our cover story, “When it comes to your work performance, exercise may be the best tool you’re not utilizing, from improving your creative problem solving to boosting your productivity and time management skills.”
One key misconception many people have — and one that keeps them from being more active — is that in order to be healthy, you have to exercise every day at maximum output. As the science shows, that’s just wrong (and a recipe for injury). So a key part of the conversation around fitness and physical well-being needs to move away from the idea of “exercise” and toward a broader, more inclusive definition: movement.
“A lot of people think exercise means you have to hit the point where you’re completely out of breath and panting after you’ve finished,” Edward Phillips, M.D., founder and director of the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at Harvard Medical School said. “You can do that, but for the majority of health benefits you don’t need to.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends most healthy adults get “at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.”
Moderate aerobic exercise encompasses everything from brisk walking and swimming to mowing the lawn. But it’s important not to discount other forms of movement, like stretching, tai chi and yoga. What matters is moving at all. Research has found that DNA strands are best preserved through our lifetimes by minimizing sedentary time — rigorous exercise isn’t even required. So if you want to get the best out of your team, it’s time to talk to them about being active.
And it’s important for you to lead by example. If you don’t have standing desks or a gym at your workplace, there are plenty of other ways to bring movement into your team’s day.
Here are a few ways you can encourage your team to get moving:
Institute walking meetings: These are a favorite of top CEOs, ranging from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to Virgin’s Richard Branson. Not only do walking meetings get your heart pumping, but a 2014 Stanford University study found that walking meetings increase creative outcomes.
Help your team establish “movement time” on their calendars each week: Ask each of your employees to create a calendar invite for themselves for “movement” or exercise. Some employees may want to schedule this every day, while others might want it once a week. Maybe it’s a walking meeting, a lunch time trip to the gym or an evening exercise class. What matters is that you help them keep that appointment every week.
Practice what you preach: Be clear with your team about how you prioritize time for exercise or movement. Perhaps you put your exercise time on your public calendar, mention it at your next team meeting or invite everyone for a group outing to a class or event.