Exercise and mental health, supporting employee mental health

Exercise and mental health

The Thriving at Work report published in 2017 suggested that around 15% of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition. The same document also highlighted that poor mental health costs UK employers between £33bn and £42bn. So tackling this issue is a major focus for employers in 2018 and beyond.

Mental health in the workplace

Different organisations are addressing this issue in differing ways, with many now seeking to follow the suggested “core” and “enhanced” standards that were outlined in the Thriving at Work report. But some more far-sighted employers are now taking action beyond mere compliance, and are looking at other practical steps to support their employees in the quest for good mental health. And one such step might well be promoting and providing opportunities for physical exercise during the working day.

Physical exercise and mental health?

The relation of physical activity and exercise to mental health is generally accepted, with GPs often advising patients showing signs of poor mental health to take regular exercise as part of their prescribed treatment. And a recent report from the United States - based on more than 1.2 million participants - provides some strong data to support the assumption that increased levels of exercise can indeed be beneficial in the battle to achieve good mental health.

Adults taking part in the study said they experienced on average 3.4 days of poor mental health each month. For those who were physically active this reduced to 2 days. The survey also found that regular physical exercise had an even larger impact for individuals already diagnosed with depression. This grouping saw a drop from 11 days to 7 days each month. These findings clearly suggest that the supposed link between exercise and mental health is indeed genuine.

Of course a more physically fit workforce will also benefit the overall health of the workforce in other ways. Regular exercise can help reduce many of the risks associated with various conditions and illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes.

What can your business do to support your employees?

Employers really should do all they can to enable their employees to take regular physical exercise. Find out more about employee benefits can support this ambition.

Doug Rice
Doug leads the international Mercer Marsh Benefits team, specifically focusing on meeting the rising demand for effective UK and international employee benefits management programmes. Doug has over 20 years’ experience in the employee benefits sector, having previously worked for Medic4all, Cigna and Bupa.