Workouts, workplaces and mental well-being

The relationship between our physical and mental health, and a potential role for employers

It’s well-known that there is a positive relationship between regular exercise and mental well-being, our research reiterates this, finding that those who do not exercise during a typical week have lower mental well-being, as measured by the SWEMWBS*.

We decided to delve deeper and investigate the impact of exercising alone versus in a group, with respect to mental well-being generally as well as the specific positive emotions elicited by exercise. Interestingly, social exercise is more effective at eliciting positive feelings, namely feeling happy and energised – 22% of those who only ever exercise alone said they feel happy after exercise, versus 38% of those who exercise as part of a group at least once during a typical week.

Linking this back to mental well-being specifically, we found that ‘social exercisers’ have higher mental well-being than those who only ever exercise alone (45% vs. 38% with above average mental well-being).

However, despite the positive effects exercise has on mental-well-being, only 65% of Brits exercise at least once during a typical week. With a quarter (24%) of those who don’t exercise saying this is because they don’t have the time, this presents an opportunity for employers to help their time-poor employees stay fit both mentally and physically. Additionally, the social nature of many workplaces could enable social exercise, boosting the mental well-being of the workforce further.

Though, employers seem yet to realise the benefit of encouraging their workforce to be active. Three in five (57%) workplaces do not offer or do anything to encourage physical activity amongst their workforce, be it cycle to work schemes or subsidised gym memberships. Given the strong links between mental well-being and exercise, it could be unwise in the long term for employers to continue to not encourage an active workforce. 

Sarah Stewart-Brown, Professor of Public Health from Warwick University adds: “The relationship between mental health and exercise is likely a bidirectional one, with exercise improving mental health, as well as good mental health driving increased exercise. It would be a wise move for more employers to encourage exercise amongst their workforce. Not only would employees that exercise find themselves more motivated and with better mental well-being, they would also likely increase their productivity at work too.”

Read more here.

*Short Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (SWEMWBS). © NHS Health Scotland, University of Warwick and University of Edinburgh, 2007, all rights reserved.