Executive Health: Gym bunny or sloth?

New Zealand is divided nation when it comes to exercise habits. We have reputation of being nation of outdoorsy, exercise enthusiasts. From particular viewpoint, this could very well be true. Within 100 metres of my central Auckland office is gym packed with people at all hours, shop offering free yoga classes and well-patronised after-work running club.
Yet statistics tell quite different, and very sobering, story. Over one quarter (27.8 percent) of Kiwi adults aged 15 years and over are obese, while 37 percent are overweight.
A new survey of 2000 New Zealanders by Southern Cross found that when it comes to exercise, there’s huge divide in our exercise habits – with potentially very serious health implications for large portion of the population.
For over quarter of Kiwis surveyed, exercise is less of habit, and more of ‘once in blue moon’ event. Seventeen percent of people surveyed were exercising less than once per week, while 10 percent said they never exercised. Another 13 percent exercised just once week. To put this in perspective, Ministry of Health guidelines recommend adults should be doing at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity at least five days week.
But at the other end of the scale, an equal proportion of Kiwis are going above and beyond these guidelines. Around 17 percent said they exercised at least once day, with further seven percent exercising even more frequently. third of those surveyed were in the more moderate camp – 13 percent exercising four to five times week, and 23 percent exercising two or three times.
There can be few New Zealanders who don’t understand that regular physical activity is key factor in maintaining good health. Physical activity can help reduce the risk of number of chronic diseases, aid in the maintenance of healthy weight, boost energy levels and enhance mental wellbeing. The choice in activities and sports is vast – there truly is something for every fitness level, body size and budget.
So what’s stopping 27 percent of people from getting active even once week? revealing statistic from the survey was that the under 30s and those aged 50 plus were most likely to exercise at least twice week, while people with children and those aged 30-50 were the least likely to regularly exercise.
In other words, these people are potentially time poor. But daily activity doesn’t need to be done in one go – it can be three 10 minute bursts of activity instead of single block of 30 minutes.
As manager or employer, you have very powerful tool at hand to help people evolve from sloth to, if not gym bunny, much more active (not to mention healthier and more productive) human animal. It’s called the workplace.
The structure, scale and support offered in the work environment can help to lift many of the commonly cited barriers to exercise – such as time, convenience, expense and motivation.
The little things really do add up. Mostly it’s about creating an environment that supports and encourages physical activity. It could be companywide ‘take the stairs’ policy, showers and bike parks, discounted gym memberships, lunchtime walking groups or pilates classes, or an organised fitness challenge such as fun run or business house touch tournament. Tap into the enthusiasm and expertise of your company’s own ‘bunnies’.
Right now, many of you will be taking part in the well-deserved indulgences of the festive season. Enjoy. But as you look ahead to 2013, make resolution to encourage your team, and perhaps even yourself, to join the bunnies and reap the many benefits of good health. M

Peter Tynan is chief executive of Southern Cross Health Society.

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