Instilling healthy physical and mental habits in our routine is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. The sedentary lifestyle that characterises modern work has led to companies being even more aware of the importance that the well-being of their employees has on their professional success, and committing toa corporate culture that rewards healthy behaviour.
New technologies promote a sedentary work style, which is directly linked to health problems in the short and long term. If we add the time we spend sitting at work, to the time we spend sitting in our cars, on the underground, on the bus, on the sofa at home, and at lunch time, we easily surpass the recommended ´physical inactivity´ limit. In fact, as noted by the World Health Organisation, around 60% of the world´s population does not carry out the necessary amount of physical exercise needed to provide health benefits.
Studies published by the British Medical Journal show that a sedentary lifestyle doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease, increasing the probability of suffering back problems, high blood pressure or osteoporosis, among others. Furthermore, a sedentary lifestyle directly affects our emotional health, significantly increasing the likelihood of suffering from stress, anxiety or depression.
We had to wait until the middle of the 20th century to obtain objective data about the negative effects on our health caused by the lack of physical activity. In the 50s, Jeremiah Morris, considered to be the father of physical activity and health epidemiology, proved that a sedentary lifestyle increased the risk of death. Since then, numerous studies have been carried out on the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle on people´s health and well-being.
If until now the solution adopted by many has been to make up for hours spent sitting, by spending hours at the gym, experts note the need to incorporate movement into companies´ work routines. Apart from releasing endorphins, physical exercise fosters the creation of new neurons (neurogenesis), improves brain performance and increases BDNF protein levels, directly involved in the learning and memory processes.
To transform this way of working, the WELL Certification encourages movement, which it sees as an active life model that includes physical activity and constant change within spaces. Designing layouts that encourage people to stand up and walk, incorporating flexible furniture to work both while sitting or standing up, promote the use of stairs instead of lifts, encouraging workers to park a little further away in order to walk part of the journey, installing bicycle-parking bays and changing rooms to encourage people who live close by to cycle to work, suggesting joint movement activities or introducing measures to promote sports, are some of the measures that companies are already adopting.
Together with physical well-being, mental health is another major challenge of new workplaces which WELL also analyses. A harmonious range of colours and textures, natural light and views of the outside, spaces for relaxation and contemplation, biophilic design, music or works of art, are some of the aspects that improve workers´ mood, inspiring them and encouraging them to be more creative. Furthermore, the social interaction generated by unassigned positions promotes emotional well-being and generates bonds between employees who would otherwise not get to know each other.
However, an adequate design is not enough. It is also essential that companies incorporate a workspace use policy, with messages linked to healthy eating, the benefits of physical activity and addiction prevention, and books on mental health, management, nutrition, exercise or maternity; as well as specific training programmes that improve the cognitive and emotional well-being of their workers.