Did you know that a quarter of the world’s population is physically inactive? I didn’t, my initial thoughts when I heard this were, what does it mean to be ‘physically inactive’ and why should it even concern me? In the series of articles I’ll be publishing for the next three weeks of this year and then continue with in the new year, I want to share with you the answers and explore the topic of physical activity and fitness as it relates to employers. I’ll be looking at why employers should focus on providing and even incentivising fitness activities for their staff, what the benefits are – especially to the bottom line – and what’s the best way to do so.

Technology has been developing in leaps and bounds, we have now reached the point where people can basically tailor make their own entertainment each day in the ‘format’ they enjoy most: movies, tv series, podcasts, videos, gaming, social media etc. With this great wealth of available tech resources, I have chosen to incorporate video and podcast content into my articles to try and give you a real connection with myself and all the people I’ve worked with. I hope you find this set of articles to not only be informative but also enjoyable and entertaining to read, watch and listen to. I’m sure you’ll find ‘there’s something for everyone’ or more specifically something you in particular relate to. This was really my goal when I set out to find and work with the top experts from a number of different fitness fields to develop the content.

Here is the first video:

It’s a 5 minute introduction where Ursula Fear (Managing Director of Adcorp’s Training Solutions and Talent Learning & Development Expert) and I chat about why I’m so passionate about physical activity and most importantly why employers should incorporate it into their employees daily work activities.

Getting back to my first thought on this topic ‘what does it mean to be ‘physically inactive’? I found this was the term used by the World Health Organisation (‘WHO’) and THE LANCET in their article on ‘Worldwide trends in insufficient physical activity from 2001 to 2016: a pooled analysis of 358 population-based surveys with 1·9 million participants’ published in 2018. Both of these organisations define it as:

  • Not doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity (circa 20 minutes per day), or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or any equivalent combination of the two.

I first heard this term used by Adrian Gore when he announced the results, on 6 November 2019, of a ‘ground-breaking global study on the economic impact of physical activity conducted by Discovery and Rand Europe’. The study was conducted as part of Discovery’s drive to help people become more physically active as it leads to us living healthier, longer and better lives. Why the study is different from previous studies of its kind is that for the first time it links physical activity to economic growth. It also gives very clear, simple guidelines to follow in order to obtain economic growth. For South Africa these are:

  • If we get all adults 20% more active over the next 30 years, our average GDP will grow by R7 billion per annum; and
  • If we get all ‘inactive people’ (as defined by the WHO and THE LANCET above which is all people who do less than 20 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise such as walking a day) to do 20 minutes of walking a day, over the next 30 years, the average GDP of South Africa will grow by R22,4 – R29,4 billion per annum.

The study’s economic growth numbers are derived from projected lower mortality rates (more people alive and contributing to the economy), reduced absenteeism and lower presenteeism driven by the positive impact of physical activity on mental health. Adrian also stressed in his announcement that yes the impact is significant in terms of financial gains to the economy but the impact on a personal level is most profound. This is because it would increase the lifespan of an average 40 year-old by 2.5 years and lead to 5 additional productive days a year. No doubt the quality of a person’s life experience is greatly enhanced too.

I’d like to conclude this introduction to these ‘Focus on Fitness’ articles by answering the question ‘why should it even concern me?’ I believe physical activity and fitness is a subject that should greatly interest and concern all of us because it has a massive positive impact on our wellbeing. As THE LANCET clearly states: ‘The health benefits of physical activity are well established and include a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and breast and colon cancer. Additionally, physical activity has positive effects on mental health, delays the onset of dementia, and can help the maintenance of a healthy weight.’

I hope this introductory article has been both informative and inspiring, encouraging you to keep going with your physical activities or to start engaging in some. Please keep an eye out for my next article where I share insights on the workplace today and why and how fitness is a great way to increase employee engagement and as a result increase organisational profitability and sustainability.