OK, let’s be honest. How many working adults engage in physical activity three times a week, 30-45 minutes per session? The truth is, not many. While we strive to exercise regularly, many of us are so caught up in the rat race, there’s almost no time to work out.
The stats aren’t surprising: the 2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) shows 33.7% of Malaysians (16 years and above) do not exercise at all!
There’s more worrying news. A 2014 study by British medical journal The Lancet found that Malaysia is the most obese country in Asia. It showed that 49% of women and 44% of men in this country were found to be grossly fat. Malaysia had an average of 45.3% of its population who were obese, followed by South Korea (33.2%), Pakistan (30.7%) and China (28.3%).
Recently it was reported that the administrative capital of Putrajaya has the highest rate of overweight and obese people in the country. The article “Putrajaya Tops Obese List” (The Star, April 2) reported the 2015 NHMS placed Putrajaya as the city with the highest percentage of overweight, obese and abdominally obese people in the country.
It appears that Malaysians have not yet caught on to the gravity of the situation.
Burn ‘em calories
Given the importance of health and fitness, it’s heartening to know that several corporations have taken steps to offer wellness programmes for employees.
Tucked away in the basement of Sunway Group’s headquarters in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, is Sunway Social Club’s (SSC) clubhouse for employees. The recreational centre offers facilities such as a 102sq m gymnasium, sauna room, squash court, table tennis, snooker table and carom boards. There’s also a 100sq m wellness room where yoga and zumba classes are held after work hours.
“Our yoga and zumba classes have been on-going for 10 years and two years respectively. They receive positive response, with over 100 employees participating each week.
“There are plans to introduce Training for Warriors – a fitness programme comprising warm-ups, speed, strength and endurance training – for employees soon,” said Sunway Group brand marketing & communications general manager Sharzede Salleh Askor.
Digital communications senior executive Nor Hidayah Hassan is a regular face at the yoga and zumba classes, held on Tuesdays and Fridays. The 30-something looks forward to the classes as they are fun, and a great way to keep in shape.
“Exercise is motivation to counteract my otherwise sedentary lifestyle. My instructors have a lot of knowledge in their respective fields and I enjoy working out with my colleagues,” said Nor Hidayah, who pays RM10 per month in membership fees.
Besides utilising facilities at the clubhouse, SSC members are welcome to sign up for events including the sports carnival, family day, treasure hunts, volunteer programmes, inter-departmental sports tournaments, local and overseas trips, and medical talks.
Set up three decades ago, the SSC has become more popular than ever.
Sharzede explained that these informal get-togethers have helped foster camaraderie among colleagues. She said: “These activities have strengthened ties among staff. It has cemented a greater sense of identification, and employees seem to work well as a team more willingly, whether we’re at work or play.”
Fitter employees, better productivity
Can a person be more productive at work by devoting a few hours to physical activity? While bosses may frown at this very idea, a 2011 study conducted by Sweden’s Stockholm University and Karolinska Institutet shows production levels aren’t compromised if a portion of work time is used for exercise.
The research found it is possible to use work time for exercise or other health-promoting measures and still attain the same, or higher, production levels.
Seeing how exercise can boost an employee’s attitude, telcommunications giant Maxis launched #FitterFasterStronger, a holistic well-being programme geared to “re-energise” employees at its headuarters in Kuala Lumpur.
Launched last year, the programme encompasses the principle that healthier and fitter employees mean greater engagement and higher productivity.
Its head of people and organisation, Adzhar Ibrahim, said the programme focuses on five key aspects – physical, emotional, social, community and career. The Maxis headquarters is equipped with an on-site fitness centre that helps staff keep fit in the comfort of their office.
The programme goes above and beyond sports and allows employees to engage in hobbies such as theatre and photography, and even learning Mandarin.
“We have various fitness and sports activities such as zumba, yoga, piloxing (a cardio fusion combining standing pilates, boxing and dance), muay thai, boot camp and tai chi catering to fitness buffs. For emotional wellness, there’s an hour of weekly meditation. Those wanting to hone their musical skills can join in ukulele and cajon classes,” Adzhar shared.
Then, of course, there’s nutrition. Employees are treated to health talks by nutritionists and at a mini-cafe, also situated within the office, where a variety of healthy options are served to ensure employees make healthier food choices.
Want to learn how to manage your bank accounts? No problem – financial talks are also thrown in to educate employees on investment and wealth management; self-defence classes are offered to teach employees to be more vigilant; and did we forget to mention a theatre and book club too?
Adzhar said response has been overwhelming, with 90% of employees stating they were pleased with the programme.
“#FitterFasterStronger continues to evolve and always incorporates new activities. We believe the programme has positively impacted productivity. If there is one way to measure productivity, we have actually seen a drop in sick leave.”
Health is wealth
When Bank Muamalat Malaysia Berhad conducted a nationwide employee medical check-up in 2013, the management received disconcerting news.
“Results indicated many employees were inactive and suffered health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure and stress. It drew concern as the lack of exercise could lead to more chronic diseases among staff,” said the bank’s sports and recreational club acting president Zaharuddin Alias.
The following year, the bank launched a wellness health and exercise programme for employees based at its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
Besides monthly health talks, employees are encouraged to sign up for free weekly cardio exercise classes held at the bank’s premises. To drive home the point to stay fit, posters and newsletters on health and fitness are distributed to employees regularly.
“We have received very positive response from staff. There’s a change in their eating habits.
“Many have seen the results and are committed towards exercising and leading a healthy lifestyle,” said Zaharuddin, adding that some employees also participate in badminton and table tennis sessions after work.
To encourage overweight staff to shed extra kilos, the financial institution also organised “Lose To Win”, a three-month weight loss competition. It received overwhelming response, with participation from 160 employees. Winner Nasir Saad couldn’t believe it when he emerged champion after losing over 10kg!
“To keep tabs on my health, I decided to work out and be mindful of my food intake. I’m happy with the weight loss results and it has served as a motivational factor to continue to lead a healthier lifestyle,” said Nasir, who got the added bonus of winning a RM3,000 cash prize!
Sweat it out
If you visit the lobby of Block E at the Health Ministry in Putrajaya on Wednesday evenings, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. At 4.30pm, the ministry organises “Sweat Wednesdays”, an exercise programme where staff members are encouraged to join in a series of fitness classes.
“Since 2014, the ministry has been organising zumba classes to encourage staff to remain healthy and active. Classes are free and conducted by trained instructors,” said Health Education Division senior assistant director Saiful Adli Suhaimi.
Besides zumba, employees can also participate in other fitness activities including aerobics, resistance band exercise, high-intensity interval training, 10,000-step walks, cycling and core workout programmes.
“Response has been fantastic. On average, 40 employees attend the zumba classses. We have about 50-100 staff who attend our programmes,” said Saiful.
Saiful encourages Malaysians to exercise at least five times a week (30 minutes per session) to lead a healthy life. Exercises could range from simple activities such as walking and jogging to light cardio workouts.
He adds: “Reduce sugar and fat intake, and processed food. Select steamed or grilled food instead of fried items. Drink water instead of gassy drinks.”
How do we find time to exercise when we spend most of our time at the office? Workout at work! Employers, take note.
1 Spend on a gym, save on medical costs.
Investing in an in-house gym (with a shower facility, preferably) at the office can actually help companies save costs – medical costs, that is. According to an article on examiner.com, American company Hunter Industries reduced employee medical costs after investing in a 929sq m workout area. Suzi Stockholm, a wellness specialist there, said the number of employees with carpal tunnel syndrome and back issues had reduced “significantly”.
2 Increased productivity and loyalty.
A healthier and fitter workforce will translate into a more productive workforce. Plus, employees appreciate the little things their company does for them – this will translate into more commitment and maybe better results.
3 A little goes a long way.
Most offices have unused space that can be converted into a workout area. It doesn’t have to be a full-fledged gym – just a decent space (ventilation is important, please) with some basic equipment would be fantastic. Or even an empty room where exercise classes like yoga, pilates or step aerobics can be conducted.
4 Smart partnerships.
Companies could also partner up with gyms around their premises – most gyms would have special rates for such arrangements.
5 And the awardgoes to…
Rewards are always a good way of motivating people. Hold monthly fitness challenges and offer attractive prizes to the winners or, better still, the top three winners. The more prizes are up for grabs, the more employees will want to take part.