Workplace fitness is good for business

NEW YORK Mon Oct 3, 2011 3:46pm BST

Employees work at a company office in Tokyo June 30, 2011. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Employees work at a company office in Tokyo June 30, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Toru Hanai

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NEW YORK (Reuters)- Stuck on a problem at work? The best way to solve it could be to get moving and take a walk.

Fitness experts thinking outside the cubicle are hoping to see the sedentary corporate culture of marathon meetings and vast stretches of unbroken computer time go the way of the typewriter.

"Forty years ago athletes were told if you drink water it's a sign of weakness. We are still living in an old-think culture in business," said Dr. Jack Groppel, an exercise physiologist. "We're not active, we're not moving and we need to change this paradigm."

Groppel, co-founder of the Human Performance Institute, based in Orlando, Florida, said that building even small breaks into the workday every 20 minutes or so will not only cut down on healthcare costs but improve performance.

"If there's more oxygen getting to the brain, you solve problems more readily," he said. "We understand it intellectually but we do nothing about it behaviorally."

Groppel likens the changing role of physical activity in organizations to the concept of going green.

"It has to become a crisis," he explained.

With U.S. obesity rates over 30 percent, some companies are listening. Last year 25 of the Fortune 100 companies participated in his company's Corporate Athlete training program, which includes lessons in interval, resistance and flexibility training.

Groppel said tactical initiatives to get workers moving, such as walking groups and discounted gym memberships, will have only limited success until the workforce is given permission to move about.

"The boss has to role-model this," he said. "The story in business is still, 'If we've got to solve a problem, we'll stay in this room until we solve it, when, in fact, we have our best ideas when we're in a mode of recovery. We have our best ideas in the shower."

Shirley Archer, author of the book "Fitness 9 to 5," was a corporate lawyer until chronic fatigue syndrome led her to reinvent herself as a Florida-based fitness instructor.

She believes companies are becoming more amenable to workplace fitness.

"Studies are showing that for every dollar they spend on workplace wellness they get three dollars back," Archer said. "Anyone who sits at a computer all day is going to have issues over time."

In her book she lays out a cornucopia of small-scale movements, such as chair squats, lunges, mini-back bends and stretches, tailored to a day at the office.

"It adds up," she said. "Even taking a minute each hour to stretch can make a difference."

Other practical tips include keeping light dumbbells in your drawer, tracking your activity with a pedometer, taking the stairs or parking at the far end of the lot.

"And we don't have to have sitting meetings," she said. "Why can't we have walking meetings? Just standing doubles your calorie expenditure."

That would go a way toward dispelling what Groppel calls the "myth of face time."

"Research shows that if we exercise at 6:30 am every day, then go into the workplace and sit in meetings all day long, the brain starts slowing down," he said. "The human body is business relevant."

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