Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2019 winners of the award at this link and watch a video from the winners here.

Registration for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award is now open. Register at this link.

For more information about the award go to You can also purchase the benchmark report that outlines findings from 2018 at this link here.

Do you know the benefits of regular physical exercise?

Most of us know that regular exercise reduces our risk for chronic ailments such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We also know that it improves our physical fitness, which increases our ability to perform activities that require strength and endurance. Perhaps that’s it’s just being able to go outside and run around and play tag with our children or grandchildren, or help move furniture, shovel snow, or go for a long hike.

Having the physical strength to do what we want lets us embrace life the way we want. The benefits of physical exercise go beyond curbing chronic diseases; it reduces our mortality risk. A commitment to regular physical activity helps us achieve our desired physical fitness level so we can we can look and feel the way we want.

However, knowing all this isn’t enough to get a lot of people to exercise. What about you? Do you have a physical exercise plan? If so, great. If not, why? Perhaps a part of the reason is how you feel.

This micro skill introduces the link between physical exercise and mental health. Mental health impacts how we feel and experience the world. Without good mental health, it’s difficult to enjoy life.


A recent article in Lancet Psychiatry looked at the link between physical exercise and mental health in 1.2 million people in the U.S., between 2011 and 2015. Evidence suggested that people who exercised had fewer days when they experienced poor mental health compared those who didn’t exercise. This study suggested that three to five sessions of 45 minutes of exercise a week improved mental health.

This mind-body connection suggests that if we want to have good mental health it’s beneficial to exercise.


Credible medical resources such as the Mayo Clinic promote that exercise has positive benefits even for people who have developed a chronic disease such as heart disease or diabetes.

With all the information available about the benefits of regular exercise for physical health for many years, and now for mental health, one wonders why so many people are not more active.

One reason, as Start with Why author Simon Sinek would suggest, is we simply don’t follow through. Exercise is the what we do and the how we exercise can vary from going to a gym, walking, playing soccer or riding a bike. Answering the question with respect to why exercise is important to provide insight for developing purpose and passion.

If exercise is looked at as work or pain, most people won’t embrace it, and so don’t reap its benefits. Knowing that exercise is good for us isn’t enough. If we want to benefit, we must become crystal clear on our why.


Mental illness can occur because of an extended period of poor mental health. Regular physical exercise is one way to maintain good mental health, as it reduces risk for chronic diseases, including mental illness.

Getting started:

1. Set your weekly physical exercise goal – Define your minimum weekly physical exercise goal, such as going to a 45-minute exercise class three times a week. Be clear on why you want to achieve this goal and on the benefits you expect to achieve (for example, supporting your mental and physical health). If you’re not now physically active in some way, consult with your medical doctor before starting exercise, to confirm that you’re healthy enough to begin.

2. Get your physical exercise baseline and record your weekly exercise – Calculate how many minutes of physical exercise you’re getting a week now, the type of exercise you’re engaging in, and the intensity level: low (walking), moderate (jogging) or high (cross fit). As you start your exercise routine, record your total minutes of exercise for the week and then set your goal and intensity level for the next week.

3. Focus on creating a physical exercise habit, not the outcome – Going to a gym 10 times and expecting your body to change is unrealistic. But by working out regularly, paying attention to your diet, and engaging in an exercise program that challenges your body, it’s realistic to expect positive changes. The more you can stay in tune and focus on your goal of good physical and mental health, the more likely you’ll develop the habit of exercise.

Bill Howatt is the chief of research for work force productivity at the Conference Board of Canada, and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

You can find other stories like these at

Download our e-books: Inch by Inch, Make Life a Cinch; Little Steps to Big Change; Staying Afloat.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe