To beat a horse so thoroughly dead and beaten that it no longer resembles anything mammalian, America is facing an obesity epidemic. Wouldn’t bring it up, except that a problem everyone knows about is still a problem, and still needs solutions. To that end, perhaps it would be best to look once again at some of the causes.
Yes, the increasingly unhealthy nature of processed foods combined with their availability and affordability versus healthier alternatives is a big part of it. Not to mention the ever-growing number of sedentary entertainments out there. Why plays sports when we have iPhone games, Netflix and…ESPN, come to think of it? But ah, those things are all personal choice. Personal choices in which the tastiest or most fun options are stacked against nutrition and fitness, sure. But the choice nonetheless. What of our obligations, and how they contribute to a less than healthy lifestyle?
Take the forty-hour workweek, and then add in a commute, meals, sleep, and a need to have a bit of relaxation and you’re left with five out of seven days during which any sort of exercise—while not quite a Herculean effort—at least seems like an extra layer of commitment to what already might be a stressful lifestyle. And that’s only if we’re talking about forty hours a week. Factor in more than that and the need for true leisure grows even more severe, as do the odds against finding time for the necessary amount of exercise to maintain physical health.
As a way to combat this endemic issue, some companies have offered compelling solutions. The most direct one is simply offering paid breaks as long as employees spend them exercising. But health incentives can span to include discounted gym memberships or engaging in full-on companywide initiatives. It so happens that we just finished up the fifth annual National Employee Wellness Month, which began in June 2009 from a partnership between Virgin Healthmiles and the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance.
The motivation for companies to join in is obvious: Employee exercise today results in a healthier workforce tomorrow, meaning they both work more effectively and place less of a burden on company health care expenses. And as an added bonus, it’s a clear way to show that a company genuinely does care about the health of its workers.
Workplace workout, after all, is incredibly important. There are plenty of reasons that schools include a PE class, and those reasons don’t grow any less valid with age. For all institutions that demand an amount of time akin to a school day to provide the same opportunity only makes sense—double so when that institution is responsible for the person’s health care costs. It’s a situation where the interests of the individual employee and the company as a whole most definitely align, and by working together they can make strides towards lessening the massive health crisis that’s overtaken the population these last few decades.