employers can play an important role in encouraging people to become “everyday athletes”

Being an “everyday athlete” doesn’t mean having to be as good as an Olympian

As we bask in the glow of the record medal haul by Team GB at the Rio Olympics, research has suggested that, just by promoting a few small lifestyle changes, employers can play an important role in encouraging people to become “everyday athletes”.

Today's winners parade in London is set to see thousands line the streets for the second time in two days, to celebrate the success of our super-fit Team GB romping to their record medal haul in Rio in August.

But, probably for most of us (keeping an eye on social media feeds at best from our sedentary office positions or cars), there will be an uncomfortable twinge of recognition at just how unfit and out of shape we are by comparison.

Yet it doesn’t have to be like that, recent research has suggested. Carrying out 21 minutes of exercise every day could increase your life expectancy by more than three years, a study from health and life insurer Vitality has argued.

An analysis of 6,600 Vitality members over of 12 months found previously sedentary members who increased their activity levels to the government-recommended 150 minutes a week saw their life expectancy boosted by 3.1 years.

Members who increased their activity levels to 90 minutes saw an increase of 2.7 years and exercising just 60 minutes a week saw an increase of 2.4 years. 

The research was calculated through analysis of each individual’s “Vitality Age”, or an aggregate measure of wellness that evaluates the gap between physical body age and actual age.

By surveying members before and after they made changes to their everyday behaviour, the data pinpointed the impact of behaviour on life expectancy.

As Neville Koopowitz, chief executive of Vitality, highlighted: “It is extremely encouraging to see how people can increase their life expectancy through moderate increases in activity levels. Motivating and then rewarding people to exercise results in lasting health improvements, which is why we have launched this campaign.”

The research also made a direct link to our Team GB athletes, with Vitality over the summer launching a campaign called “Everyday Athlete” fronted by London gold and now Rio silver medal heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill.

This, in turn, highlighted the benefits that even small additional physical activities can have, such as walking up an escalator rather than just standing on it.

And this, really, is the important point for employers to grasp here. When creating and communicating health promotion messages to your employees, it is important to make them realistic, relevant and, most of all, attainable.

Yes, there will be some of your employees who will be enthusiastic athletes and happy to hit that subsidised gym before the sun rises or at lunchtime.

But, for the rest of us, the message that it is the small, everyday changes that we make – and, crucially, stick to – that can over time improve our health is an important one.

The escalator change as highlighted above, taking the stairs instead of the lift, getting off a stop earlier on your commute or cycling in, going out for a stroll at lunchtime – the benefits of making relatively minor changes such as these can really build up over time to make a difference.

We may all have been inspired by Team GB’s performance in Rio but it is much better, and much more realistic, to aspire to being just a bit fitter – and then gradually building from there – than suddenly believing you can turn yourself into a Lycra-clad super-fit athlete overnight.

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