Opinion: It’s time to make exercise at work compulsory

Opinion: It's time to make exercise at work compulsory
Health blogger Malin Nylén. Photo: Sandra Birgersdotter
Swedish health blogger Malin Nylén argues that it's time for companies to make it compulsory for their employees to exercise during working hours.

Stress has been accepted as an everyday occurrence because it's the same thing for everyone. Many people have children and work in jobs which require high performance levels, and at the same time little control and development opportunities. I know quite too much and have seen too many go under to be able to stand passively on the sidelines and watch while more and more people hit the wall.

Perhaps we could see it as every adult’s duty to make the best version of themselves available – both in the workplace and in their private life, through taking care of their health better? Are we able to take responsibility for ourselves, or is it maybe time for employers to step in?

I was one of those in the risk zone but managed to avoid the wall just in time. I dismissed clear warning signs like dizziness, short-term memory loss and mood swings as hypochondria and instead went full-throttle.

The turning point came when I met my partner and began to value my life outside of the office. Only then did I put my foot down and take control of my situation in life, like limiting my working hours and starting to exercise every morning before the job.

The balance between performance and recovery conditions the body’s immune system and our mental balance. Yet we continue to turn ourselves inside and out and push the limits, despite our awareness that prolonged stress without recovery takes a toll on both the body and brain. Our brain and central nervous system are just as sensitive as 20 years ago, but burdened with much more today.

How can companies help make a difference? Through practical measures, like for example putting in place compulsory exercise during working hours, employers can work against exercise becoming just another stress factor in an already time-pressured weekday. What we know for sure is that everyone becomes more productive and stress resistant by exercising. All kinds of exercise are good, but according to doctors regular cardiovascular exercise like running or cycling has the best effect on the brain.

Perhaps companies could use different carrots as motivation – like for example a pay increase or extra holiday days to get employees to live more healthily? Or why not bring in a health consultant who could help the company to put together a health program where employees get the chance to improve their health within working hours and as a result improve their performance levels?

There’s already a lot going on within this area because companies and politicians are beginning to realize that there are big profits to be made if people keep fit, given all that unhealthiness brings in both the costs for society and making lives miserable.

It is becoming more and more common for doctors to prescribe exercise and better eating habits instead of medicine.

My hope is that a law will be introduced on exercise at work. The question is how long we can wait.

How many more around us do we need to see get sick before more companies begin to take responsibility for their employees’ health?

This opinion piece was written by Swedish health entrepreneur and blogger Malin Nylén, who thanks Jonas Elfort Ek for inspiring it. The article was originally published in Swedish by Metro.