Exercise and fitness

As employers, it is important to remember that your most important assets are your employees. If you want your employees to enjoy their work environment, and bring the best of themselves to their jobs every day you need to encourage them to look at fitness as a lifestyle choice. In Northern Ireland 7 out of 10 people are not physically active enough to benefit their health.

Employer's promotion of physical activity

As employers, it is important to remember that your most important assets are your employees. If you want your employees to enjoy their work environment, and bring the best of themselves to their jobs every day you need to encourage them to look at exercise, fitness and diet as a lifestyle choice. These changes can be adopted into your lifestyle in many different ways and when consistently applied they have enormous positive effects on various aspects of your career and personal life. In Northern Ireland 7 out of 10 people are not physically active enough to benefit their health which is mainly caused by people’s choices not to adopt and a practice a healthy lifestyle.

The workplace is a key setting for health and wellbeing as many people spend a large majority of their time at their workplace.  Improving the exercise, fitness & diets of your workforce will have benefits not just for their health, but for the health and productivity of your company.  Moderate exercise along with a healthy balanced diet is also shown to reduce stress, combat fatigue, improve performance and lead to fewer workday absences which has a positive effect not only on the employer but for the employees as well. 

Due to sickness and injury in 2018/19 the NICS workforce cost the Northern Ireland taxpayer £32.9 million in lost production, on average 12.6 days were lost per staff year.  The 12.6 days lost per staff year represented 5.8% of the available working days in 2018/19. For more details on this topic follow the link below:

A healthy workforce will not have as many absences due to sickness and injury. Investing in exercise, fitness & diet will create a good working environment, promote a healthy lifestyle and educate staff about health issues and healthy eating.

Physical activity can be promoted by both the employer and the employee. If both parties are willing to make changes so everyone benefits they can work together to achieve a healthier workforce.

This section highlights some simple benefits for employers.

There are many reasons why employers should promote physical activity in the workplace:

  • Fit and healthy employees are less likely to get sick, a person who is physically fit is generally more resistant to “picking up bugs” than a person who is not fit, reduced absenteeism and reduced staff turnover are one of the many benefits of improving health in the workplace.
  • fit employees have more energy, one of the many benefits of regular exercise is increased and sustained energy throughout the day, this energy allows the employee to stay focused on the task in hand.
  • fit employees have more self-confidence, a fit and healthy individual tends to have a high level of self-confidence, because they have proven to themselves that they can accomplish what it takes to obtain a level of physical fitness, this self-confidence empowers the employee to challenge themselves, and strive for higher levels of achievement in the workplace.
  • fit employees inspire confidence, a person who maintains a high fitness level, tends to be a person in whom others have confidence.
  • fit employees tend to take on more leadership roles, due to the many positive benefits of a healthy lifestyle, a fit individual tends to make a good leader.
  • fit employees tend to have better attitudes.
  • fit employees generally “feel good”, being physically active helps release chemicals in your brain (endorphins), which have a positive effect on your mood, releasing stress.

Employees that maintain a level of fitness are more likely to participate in physical activities, including team building exercises and team bonding excursions.
Encouraging fitness demonstrates a concern for employees' well-being. Employees notice when an employer shows concern for their health and well-being through a variety of health and well-being programs making the employee feeling respected and valued. Employees that are treated that way tend to be more productive and innovative.

Research has shown that employee turnover is significantly lower among employees that take advantage of health and well-being programs implemented by their employer, making them an employer of choice.

In 2006 the Health Promotion Agency (now the Public Health Agency) and HSENI collaborated on a pilot project entitled Work Well and produced a Creating Healthy Workplaces - Workplace Guide as part of the pilot project.

Ideas for promotion of physical activity & healthy eating

Improving the exercise, fitness & diet of your workforce need not be costly or difficult to introduce. This can be achieved in many different way and when they accompany one another it is proven to get superior results.

This section highlights simple mechanisms to carry this out.

There are many simple steps which can be taken in the workplace:

  • walking to colleagues' desks instead of using internal phones or e-mails
  • taking the stairs instead of the lift
  • walking or cycling to work
  • encouraging staff to walk during their lunch breaks
  • getting off the bus one or two stops earlier than usual
  • observing the recommendations for frequency of breaks as opportunities to be active
  • going for a walk at lunchtime
  • purchase pedometers to record the number of steps taken in a day with the aim of achieving 10,000 steps a day and even organizing a workplace pedometer challenge
  • taking part in events such as Bike to Work day and local fun runs
  • organizing a lunchtime activity group e.g. football or netball, to play matches against other local workplace teams for motivation
  • incorporate physical activity within existing policies or plans
  • Make healthy, nutritious foods available at the workplace i.e. in the canteen, vending machine etc.
  • Educate employees by creating a wellness hub were all the current information can be sourced i.e. healthy recipes, weight loss tips etc.
  • Erect information on the notice board showing employees results from before and after as this will let other people see the positive effects that can be achieved when following an exercise and diet program.

Additional information and ideas can be found on the following websites:



Key Legislation

Although there is a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work Order 1978 for employers to look after the health, safety and welfare of their employees, there is nothing in this Order, or in any other pieces of health and safety legislation specifically relating to exercise and fitness.


Related to Exercise and fitness

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Access to information

How to request information from the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland including Freedom of Information (FOI) and the use of our Publication Scheme.