Huffington Post Latest: Is Office Culture Preventing You From Exercising

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One of my favourite things about being a Pilates instructor, is the freedom it allows me to teach anywhere. I can literally pop up with my mat, a bunch of people and a bit of space and ‘voila’ I’m getting a few more people active.

I particularly love teaching in offices. It’s something I’ve done for nearly ten years since I first started a class at UBS in the city. The class still runs and every week, the comments are the same:

“Pilates at lunchtime makes going to work more bearable”

“It’s the highlight of my day.”

It’s simple. Find a room and a group of people who want to exercise. Participants pay me directly and in I go (complete with my own public liability insurance). I brighten their day, improve their physical and mental wellbeing (and productivity) and complete their employers’ need to provide work/life balance for employees.

At a time when physical activity is known to reduce the risk of diseases like Diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimers and some cancers and reduce the number of days off sick (especially in the case of back pain) providing exercise opportunities at work, or the space and time to get active is crucial to business. If people are your biggest assets, you’ll want to look after them. And when it comes to retaining your best staff, showing them you care about their wellbeing is right up there with offering a good pension and a great canteen.

When it comes to setting up corporate classes however (and keeping them) there are always legal and logistical hoops to jump through. And lately it’s getting harder. I’ve even lost classes recently due to office space being squeezed as big businesses rent out meeting room space.

And then there’s the health and safety excuse. I recently had a participant enquire about classes in her office. She’d recently returned to work after maternity leave and it seemed like a great way of fitting exercise into her day, whilst benefitting many of her colleagues. Her boss was completely for it. We got as far as the 15 or so people who wanted to do it getting ready to buy their mats when health and safety officials let out a categorical ‘NO’ – too many litigious implications of someone running an exercise class on office premises.

It’s a growing trend. Minutes in the office are carefully accounted for and it seems the risk of someone tripping over their mat and suing someone, outweighs the benefit of them staying pain free and happier because they are getting in some regular exercise.

And it’s not just letting is fitness instructors in to offices that seems problematic. Letting people out at lunchtimes to run, or to use their subsidised gym membership can also be frowned upon. I remember as a management consultant at the start of my career, that lunch breaks were non existent. If I wanted to work out it had to be before work or afterwards, something which now, as a working mum of two, would simply not be possible.

Elsewhere in the world, exercise at work culture is very different. A friend who recently re-located to Germany found herself taking up running because it was offered at work and it seemed like a great way to enjoy the black forest. She loves it! Look at Japan, with their Radio Taiso (a radio station with nothing but exercise) and employers who let staff take breaks at regular intervals to be active. The productivity results speak for themselves.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule in the UK. Companies or teams who actively encourage their staff to get active or have more flexible hours to fit in hobbies. Often those fast growing companies with flexible working schemes who people really want to work for. But the general trend seems to be to squeeze every last ounce of energy from staff in office buildings (those offices which command high rents and which are potentially soon to be redundant themselves) and to sing about work/life balance in interviews or in theory but to fail to follow up on it in practice.

Only yesterday, speaking at London’s Elevate event, the Chief Medical Officer spoke about the importance of fitness industry professionals like me sharing basic exercise and activity information with as many people as possible. Pilates isn’t about creating an army of Darcey Bussells, it’s about encouraging community and active, agile, more mobile bodies. Fitness isn’t just about body building competitions or marathons, it’s about disease prevention and enjoying our golden years as active pensioners. So I’ll continue to pester businesses to let me in to help their people, even if it takes super hero Pilates powers to over come the nay sayers and overly litigious health and safety officers.

Please, just let me in. I want to help!

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