This week’s guest blog is by Shanara Abdin, a trainee Health Psychologist who has collaborated with colleagues at the University of the West of England, Bristol and City of Wolverhampton Council Public Health Team to assess the effectiveness of physical activity interventions for improving psychological wellbeing in working adults. 

Workplaces have been shown to directly influence the physical, mental, economic and social wellbeing of employees and as a result, the health of their families.

Wellbeing, in this case, refers to an individual realising his or her own capabilities and being able to feel good and function well with the normal stresses of life, while working. 

Although the benefits of physical activity in promoting wellbeing are widely accepted, links between physical activity interventions and wellbeing across workplace settings remain unclear and often anecdotal. This was the first systematic review, to our knowledge, where the effectiveness of physical activity in improving wellbeing is synthesised. The full systematic review can be found in Public Health Journal

Key findings

  • Exercise, yoga and walking interventions improve wellbeing compared to no intervention. 
  • There is mixed evidence that physical activity interventions can improve wellbeing in adults, with evidence of improvement being maintained for up to two years after intervention. 
  • All intervention types led to some improvement in wellbeing, when compared to the control group. This means the evidence leads us to believe that some physical activity intervention is better than nothing. 

What does this mean for future research and policy?

We recommend that interventions should incorporate health psychology theories and use behavioural change techniques to implement interventions across the targeted workforce population. None of the studies included in our review used a theoretical base in their interventions. 

Our review highlights promising findings and indicates that employees can improve their psychological wellbeing by participating in any form of physical activity in an office setting. We also recommend future research to focus on one type of physical activity to investigate the effectiveness of a specific physical activity on employee wellbeing. 

As yoga includes an element of mindfulness, this type of physical activity may influence wellbeing differently to traditional physical activity interventions such as exercise and walking. Regular exercise is intended to tone and strengthen the body, while yoga focuses on physical and mental fitness.