Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

The economics of exercise: Lack of employee physical activity costs UK businesses up to £6.6 billion

AXA PPP healthcare urges UK businesses to prioritise employees’ mental and physical health by encouraging and supporting staff to find the time to exercise

A new study by research group PJM Economics commissioned by AXA PPP healthcare has found higher levels of physical activity among employees could save UK businesses up to £6.6 billion through improved employee productivity each year.

The Economics of Exercise: Measuring the business benefits of being physically fit’ highlights the substantial return on investment businesses could stand to make from increasing physical activity levels among employees.

Drawing upon a range of sources including academic literature, official statistics, studies by government departments and evidence reported by private organisations, the report uses economic value transfers to quantify the value that exercise can bring to UK businesses. 

According to the study, if all employees met the recommended guidelines of doing 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity per week (just over 20 minutes per day), it could deliver up to £6.6 billion in direct productivity gains to businesses each year.

The study suggests further gains could be made as the valuation did not include the full extent of intangible benefits associated with businesses’ investment in the wellbeing of their employees, which include strengthening their culture of care, boosting the ability to attract and retain talent, avoidance of associated recruitment costs, and the perception of an increased market value of a business as a result.

Eugene Farrell, Mental Health Lead at AXA PPP healthcare, said the findings are an important step towards better understanding the business benefits associated with employee health and wellbeing.  

“For many of us, finding the time to be more active around work and life is challenging. Our latest FIT-SE Index looking at physical activity, along with barriers and motivators to exercising, confirms this with one in three Brits saying they’re too tired after work to exercise and a further one in five saying their job prevents them from regularly exercising. While this might not be surprising, it does reinforce that employers are in a unique position to positively influence change that supports and enables employees to be more active before, during and after the working day.”

Julian Hitch, Director of Wellbeing for restaurant chain Leon and world-renowned martial arts expert, has witnessed first-hand the significant benefits of supporting employee physical activity. From stress management, productivity and resilience to improved mental health, it’s clear exercise has proven to be a key part in facilitating effective working conditions. 

“Whether you’re working in the service industry and on your feet all day, or working in an office, today’s fast-paced, high-pressure environment can have a serious effect on your physical and mental health. Constant neck and back pain and reduced gut health from being desk-bound are now pervasive. Similarly, a lack of exercise affects your mental health and the brain slows down from too much sitting down. Physical activity helps address those effects on the body, as well as boost employee wellbeing overall."

These effects, and the belief in the importance of movement to wellbeing, spurred Leon’s leadership to create Kwoon, a wellbeing centre for employees. This offers free classes from martial arts to Zumba to yoga. “The centre – and our at-work integration of principles of martial arts – have had a huge effect on employees. Indeed, class attendees record reduced stress levels, allowing them to feel happier in their work, along with supporting a better service to our customers. We’ve had positive correlations between this and reduced staff turnover.”

Dr Paul Metcalfe, Founder of PJM Economics and author of the report added: “While additional research is needed to fully capture and understand the benefits exercise can deliver to UK businesses, all evidence points to there being an important role for employers to promote the wellbeing of the large working population, with benefits to be reaped at a business output level.”

The research was commissioned as part of AXA PPP healthcare’s Flying Start campaign – an initiative encouraging businesses to push back the start of the working day by one hour on National Fitness Day, Wednesday 25th September, to support employees to find the time to focus on their physical and mental health.

AXA PPP healthcare has launched its Flying Start campaign for the third year running to encourage businesses to push back the working day, by one hour, on National Fitness Day (Wednesday 25thSeptember); helping to highlight how being physically and mentally healthy is good for employees and good for business. For more information visit: