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Employers need to get serious about helping employees to exercise!

You can’t read anything these days without finding articles on how you gotta exercise. And it’s true. Exercise has enormous benefits, physical, mental, cognitive and so on. If you exercise you get all these massive benefits for free. So what’s not to like?

Well clearly many people no like. The CDC estimates that only 20% of the population meet its exercise standards. That means that 80% of us all don’t meet them. Why not? When it’s all so great and free to boot who wouldn’t run her little buns off all day and night?

Well here’s the dirty little secret that no-one is talking about. For the vast majority of people they just don’t have time. Think working couples with kids: there’s commutes to work, say at least an hour for each parent each way so 4 hours commuting per family each and every long working day. Cooking meals. Looking after kids. Taking them to school, after-school activities and so on. House-cleaning. You get the idea.

Could that be the reason 80% of us don’t meet the exercise standards promulgated all those well-heeled bureaucrats? Are the health bureaucrats heeding their own scold since they also have the same issues? What’s going on here anyhow?

Yes, I know. Excuses, excuses. You could argue that many people have the time, but just don’t want to get up from their videogames and TV. But I don’t think that’s the problem in most cases.

So, who would have time to exercise? Self-employed people who have the time, but probably not many of them. Well-off business owners. Retired people get a big check. But the worker bees? Fuhgetaboutit.

There’s something going on here that the social activists haven’t picked up on yet. You can make incomes more equal but that still doesn’t give people more time. In fact, given the need for many people to have two jobs, people on contracting gigs and so on, more income means less time. And time is what you need to do exercise. Our capitalist society has found a way to trade off time for income and the people who generally have more money have traded their precious time to get it.

So every time you see an article extolling the many virtues of exercise, think of whether the people they are urging to do thus actually have the time to do it. Bottom line: most don’t.

So the inequitable distribution of exercise is yet another source of inequality in society. But this time this inequality impacts people’s health, both mental, physical and cognitive. These unequal people – most, let’s not forget – will have worse health and life outcomes than the lucky ones who have the time to exercise.

Did we happen to mention diabetes here? You know how bad the data are on things like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity? Yep, those are the people who in general also don’t get time to exercise.

And you can’t just give people time either. It’s not a commodity you can conjure up, remember, that’s what Mr. Einstein taught us (well, maybe). You can give money but not time. Even if we could increase social security benefits it wouldn’t solve the problem. So what can we do about it?

I am convinced that employers, both private and public, must pick up the slack. Here’s my idea. I think that all employers should have to have programs for all of their employees to exercise. That doesn’t mean paying for gym memberships because, yet again, people don’t have the time.

What it means is encouragement for them to exercise. And there should be fiscal incentives employed. How about if the employee does (say) 5 hours exercise per week during working hours, she gets a 5% increase in salary? Why 5%? Because that’s almost certainly the figure that the employer will save on health insurance premiums and health costs by getting their employees to exercise. So no net cost. Plus, of course, people will feel much better, their work productivity will improve, and they will have less depression and mental illness. Yep, that’s all well-established fact.

Or how about employers pay for buses to pick up those who want to exercise and take them to a gym first thing in the morning? Saves the employees time and money, saves the employer health costs, and gets the job done. Same savings in health costs too.

In other words, I think we can have our cake and eat it. Employers can make exercise programs a profit center, not just a cost center. And in the process they can improve numerous aspects of health and productivity, not to mention things like life satisfaction and happiness.

It’s time we recognized what is obvious. People are not going to exercise unless there are financial incentives to do it. But if employers pick up on this, they can reap benefits from the program that far exceed the costs and generate social benefits that vastly outweigh the costs.

We are talking here about health, longevity and happiness. It’s all within our power. But employers have gotta get serious about it.

Time to shake a leg or two here folks. It’s another way to change the world for the better without increasing the deficit. How many opportunities like that are there anyways?

 

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Wednesday, 22 May 2019

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