From education to employment

Walking to wellness at Progress to Excellence Group #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

WORKPLACE wellness at Progress to Excellence Group is being tackled one step at a time to set employees on the road to healthy lifestyles.

 A groundbreaking approach to achieving the right balance between work and leisure is now afoot at the education and training operation – with walking to wellbeing a major route to staff happiness and job satisfaction.

Just a brisk 30 minutes’ walk a day, in the fresh air away from the office environment, is already having a positive effect on reducing stress levels.

Managing Director Sandra Kirkham explained: “As a wellbeing strategy for a company that puts the health and welfare of its employees high on its agenda, this is proving to be a remarkably effective initiative.

“Apart from the exercise, it’s become a major talking point at work; people are communicating more about the improvements in their lifestyle, how they are sleeping better and how their work is benefiting from simply feeling good.”

Sandra, working in partnership with health and wellbeing coach Sue Henry, decided to make the programme a priority within her Liverpool-headquartered group of companies to find a solution to the growing problem of finding a real life and work balance for herself and employees.

She said: “We’re a rapidly expanding business and put huge importance on a level of service for the learners and employers using our education and training services so it’s not surprising that everyone is working longer hours. It’s therefore natural for work to spread to personal lives and home time which can have an impact on our mental and physical wellbeing.

“We all have good intentions about doing more exercise – but not many of us want to spend time in the gym after a day at work so we make excuses for not putting fitness on our to-do list.

“But fitness is now part of a regime here where, for half-an-hour a day, it’s a brisk walk no matter what the weather. For those who can’t do the 30 minutes in one go, they can split it up into three 10-minute sessions – and the results are proving to be the same.

“Not only are people realising they can find time to exercise every day and start getting healthier but also, by discussion and updates with colleagues about their progress, are taking a real ‘can do’ attitude towards their health and wellbeing.”

The walking to wellness project at Progress to Excellence Group begins with a lifestyle assessment by Sue and then the fitting of individual monitors which record heart beat and sleep patterns. As well as the daily walk regime, staff also keep a daily diary of stress-related incidents at work which then show up as ‘match points’ on their assessment sheet. After three months, there’s then a re-test for comparisons.

Sue, Director at MSH Partnership, said: “The results of the programme are quite startling with those doing a 10-minute walk outdoors three times a day seeing improved sleep patterns. The fact is that not only is sleep the best way to recover after a hard day’s work but also it’s essential to maintaining your cognitive skills. There’s also a strong relationship between sleep and mental and physical health and not getting enough sleep can have a huge impact on how we function on a daily basis.

“Working in sedentary jobs is one of the biggest issues affecting employee health and walking for half-an-hour a day isn’t going to compensate for sitting at a desk for seven hours. Nor will it eliminate stress in the workplace.

“However, simply by achieving small goals like this can eventually lead to a whole new set of lifestyle choices. The programme is a regular talking point for those taking part and, after seeing their results, has become a springboard for them to move on to taking further steps – no matter how small – into other health and fitness regimes.

“It’s all about actually recognising that small lifestyle changes can yield big results.”

The workplace wellness programme is being piloted by members of the Executive Team at Progress to Excellence Group and Sandra is keen to roll it out throughout the business.

She said: “We’re an operation that leads by example from the top and it’s important that our duty of care extends to everyone in the company – workplace stress is not restricted to those in senior positions.

“As someone who is now addicted to walking, I know the huge benefits that these short bursts of exercise outside the office can bring. This programme is a great talking point too among the team here and we all encourage and support each other to make sure we stick to it. We might not be ready to run a marathon yet – but who knows!”

Research published recently by an American academic has revealed that a walk outdoors for 20-30 minutes a day is one of the most effective treatments for reducing stress. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol were shown to have lowered by around 10 per cent and “getting out of the office” was enough to achieve this result.

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