Physical Health & Work

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Organizations encouraging activity and active breaks in the workplace show concern for employees’ wellbeing and improve employees’ feelings towards the organization. There are also good team-building opportunities that encourage activity, like walking meetings or active retreats such as a bike or bus tour of campus. For employees, activity improves energy, self-confidence, increases optimism, productivity, reduces employees’ stress, and improves health. Additionally, employees who have active lifestyles are more likely to take on leadership roles and achieve their goals (Richardson, 2015).  

Participating in three-minute active breaks for every hour worked in an eight-hour shift can also improve employees’ overall functioning and improve decision-making. These three-minute breaks can be low-intensity, but moving around and stretching are the essential parts. Stretching bolsters health, including raising the arms above the head or standing up and bending the knees if possible (Bergland, 2019). These low-intensity exercise breaks are even proven to increase brain cognition and decrease the risk of serious health problems (Wheeler et al., 2020). Also, there is some evidence that exercising in the morning has additional benefits. Doing at least a 30 minute, medium-to-fast-paced workout in the morning boost short-term memory (Bergland, 2019). Even generally, 30 minutes of exercise per day is associated with a significant increase in short term memory in adults, with long-term participation in exercise proven to increase overall brain function and memory (Won, 2019). 

If scheduling virtual meetings, consider scheduling them to be 50 minutes long, so participants have a chance to move and stretch between meetings. A way to use community resources and work together would be to create a team and walk, wheel, or run a 5K or other courses together, whether that be participating in a local Playmakers event or doing it as part of a unit retreat; consult with Health4U ( for more options. Supervisors or employee leaders can suggest peer accountability groups and monitoring processes to help their employees stay committed to exercising, too. Lastly, workplace fitness programs should target multiple parts of employees’ health-promoting activities. In other words, the program should encourage fitness, but also promote other healthy activities like good nutrition and stress reduction (The Institute for Health and Productivity Studies, 2016). Try swapping out donuts for a fruit basket at your next meeting.

Person reviewing checklistPractical Example

Fitting activity in during the workday does not need to be hard. Even an activity as simple as having a moving meeting can help employees stay active. Employees can walk or wheel and talk through their meeting’s agenda instead of sitting across a table from one another. This gets employees moving and still accomplishes work.

At a Glance

Organizational benefits of prioritizing physical health: 

  • Attract and retain employees
  • Reduce absenteeism and lower health care costs 
  • Increase willingness to take on leadership roles 
  • Facilitate set and achieve more goals 
  • Improve attitudes and decrease stress 
  • Foster stronger teammates
  • Increase productivity
  • Enhance positive feelings toward the employer, since the employer is valuing the whole employee and their health, versus just their work productivity

Employee benefits of prioritizing physical health: 

  • Higher energy 
  • Higher self-confidence 
  • Set and achieve more goals 
  • Have a better attitude and are less stressed 
  • Are a stronger teammate
  • Productivity is increased 
  • More positive feelings toward the employee’s organization

MSU In Action

MSU offers free access to intramural buildings, pools, and virtual group exercise classes through Health4U and Recreational Sports and Fitness Services. For MSU employees, there are also discounted rates for time on MSU’s tennis courts, time in an intramural fitness room or group class, and access to MSU’s sailing center and sailing classes, among other seasonal options.  MSU offers bike rentals from MSU Bikes for active commutes to work or meetings and group exercise classes from Health4U, which supervisors are encouraged to promote amongst their staff, in addition to encouraging employees to visit gardens and trails across campus. 

Resources on Campus


Bergland, C. (2019, April 30). Morning exercise may improve decision-making during the day. Psychology Today.  

Hall, T. (2017, December 20). Registration for the 2018 winter warm-up couch-to-5k program is open. Michigan State University Health4U.  

Institute for Health and Productivity Studies, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (2016, June 6). Physical Activity in the Workplace  

Richardson, D. (2015, June 25). 10 benefits of exercise for the workplace. Corporate Challenge Events.  

Wheeler, M. J., Green, D. J., Ellis, K. A., Cerin, E., Heinonen, I., Naylor, L. H., Larsen, R., Wennberg, P., Boraxbekk, C.-J., Lewis, J., Eikelis, N., Lautenschlager, N. T., Kingwell, B. A., Lambert, G., Owen, N., & Dunstan, D. W. (2020). Distinct effects of acute exercise and breaks in sitting on working memory and executive function in older adults: A three-arm, randomised cross-over trial to evaluate the effects of exercise with and without breaks in sitting on cognition. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54(13), 776-781. 

Won, J., Alfini, A. J., Weiss, L. R., Michelson, C. S., Callow, D. D., Ranadive, S. M., Gentili, R. J., & Smith, J. C. (2019, April 25). Semantic memory activation after acute exercise in healthy older adults. Cambridge Core

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