As part of EuropeActive’s commitment to promote and safeguard an inclusive and welcoming environment for all across the fitness and physical activity ecosystem, and as part of EuropeActive’s Inclusion calendar, we are thrilled to promote the fourth edition of European Mental Health Week, 22-28 May 2023. This is further correlated with our European activities as it falls under our awareness-raising activities for our #HealthyLifestyle4All pledge.

This Article was brought to you by Senior Research Analyst at ukactive, Alex Lucas, has shared with us the impact of physical activity on mental health in the workplace.

The link between our body's physical health and mental health is already well established – mental health impacts physical health, and physical health impacts mental[1]. Being active is not often the first thing employers consider when looking to improve their workplace or staff wellbeing, but being physically active, and promoting this within the workforce, has major benefits for individual mental health and business health, especially during the working day.

According to the World Health Organization, 150 million people across Europe have a mental health condition, and mental disorders are responsible for 30-40% of chronic sick leave, and cost some 3% of GDP[2]. In the UK alone, 2022 figures indicated that mental health costs employers up to £56bn a year – a 25% increase since 2019 – due to individuals unable to work or leaving the labour market[3].

By using physical activity to reduce the overall risk to employees’ physical health, it naturally supports mental health by boosting mood and energy levels, while increasing opportunities for social connection. Being more active has also been shown to:

  • Reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases (e.g. diabetes, cancers, heart and respiratory diseases) and mental illness by 35%[4]
  • Support good physical and mental function, and improve sleep[5]
  • Alleviate musculoskeletal symptoms (often caused by poor posture at work)[6]
  • Offset the risk of prolonged sedentary behaviour at work [7]
  • Increase productivity at work and job satisfaction [8]
  • Reduce sick days (absenteeism) [9] and presenteeism (presence at work while sick) [10]
  • Reduce overall organisational cost [11]

Beyond the benefits listed above, building a culture centred around the health and wellbeing needs of employees also lends itself to an employee-centric, inclusive environment which can help staff feel valued and listened to, and support retention, and diversity.

ukactive’s mission is to support more people, to be more active, more often. As part of this we are here to support and drive the growth of high-quality, inclusive services offered by the UK’s fitness and leisure sector. This involves an ongoing commitment to supporting the mental health of the nation’s workforce by promoting physical activity, and includes supporting the mental health of the physical activity, fitness and leisure sector workforce.

We support the sector and our members’ commitment to this agenda by showcasing best practice and thought leadership from our members and partners, including blogs such as, ‘How are you feeling? Building better mental health in 2023’  and webinars such as, ‘How SMEs can prioritise employee wellbeing and create a positive culture’, as well as sharing resources through the ukactive Together LinkedIn group.

We also utilise The Active Workforce report and other research to share insight through sector relevant channels including Health Club Management, and develop resources like ‘Getting Active to Support Mental Health in the Workplace’ with Mind, and ‘How to support your staff to be active at work’ with the Federation of Small Businesses.

ukactive continues to act as conduit and works with partners to raise awareness of the role physical activity plays on mental and physical health. Mental health is fundamental to our sector’s role in society today and we will continue to drive awareness and progress together with our members in the UK and our partners across Europe.

[1] Luo, M. S., Chui, E. W. T., & Li, L. W. (2020). The Longitudinal Associations between physical health and mental health among older adults. Aging & mental health, 24(12), 1990-1998.

[5] UK Chief Medical Officers. UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines. (2019).                                                                            

[6] Seva, R. R., Tejero, L. M. S. & Fadrilan-Camacho, V. F. F. Barriers and facilitators of productivity while working from home during pandemic. J. Occup. Health 63, (2021).

[7] Ekelund, U. et al. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women. Lancet 388, 1302–1310 (2016).

[8] Puig-Ribera, A. et al. Self-reported sitting time and physical activity: interactive associations with mental well-being and productivity in office employees. BMC Public Health 15, 72 (2015).

[9] Merrill, R. M. et al. Self-Rated Job Performance and Absenteeism According to Employee Engagement, Health Behaviors, and Physical Health. (2013) doi:10.1097/JOM.0b013e31827b73af.

[10] Cancelliere, C., Cassidy, J. D., Ammendolia, C. & Côté, P. Are workplace health promotion programs effective at improving presenteeism in workers? a systematic review and best evidence synthesis of the literature. BMC Public Health 11, 395 (2011).

[11] National Institute for Health Research & Fortescue-Webb, D. Moving matters - interventions to increase physical activity. 45 (2019) doi:10.3310/themedreview-03898.


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