Two in five adults are now more concerned about their physical health than pre-Covid, but few are meeting the exercise targets that have been recommended by the NHS.
Nuffield Health’s Healthier nation index, an annual survey that explores how people manage their own health and wellbeing, found that 15% of adults did not exercise at all last year, despite 40% of respondents stating they cared more about their physical health since the pandemic hit.
Three-quarters of the 8,000 people surveyed admitted they were not meeting the weekly target of 75 minutes’ vigorous exercise as recommended by the NHS. Respondents completed just 40 minutes of exercise per week, on average.
Over a quarter (27%) said they were motivated to exercise as it helped their mental health, more than those who were motivated by the fact it benefits physical health (21%).
The healthcare charity said employees should be encouraged to find five minutes per day to develop healthy exercise habits.
Gosia Bowling, emotional wellbeing Lead at Nuffield Health, said: “The findings from this year’s Healthier Nation Index are a stark warning that as an industry and society we need to boost our activity levels in order to counteract the mental and physical health crisis we are facing after two years of the pandemic.
Physical health risks
“Five minutes a day will put people on a pathway back to good health, overcoming the initial barrier of getting started and helping develop better habits. Taking a proactive and connected approach to our emotional and physical wellbeing is vital as we look to recover and build a healthier nation.”
Worsening mental health
The survey also found that one in three felt their mental health had worsened over the past year, and 37% said they were now more concerned about their mental wellbeing than pre-pandemic.
Despite a significant proportion of respondents reporting mental health concerns, two-thirds said they would not be comfortable raising a mental health or emotional worry with their employer.
Bowling said it was more important than ever for employers to facilitate inclusive organisations where people felt supported. This was particularly during Mental Health Awareness Week (9-15 May 2022), where the key theme is loneliness.
“As we also transition to more hybrid and remote working patterns, it is critical that employers also find ways to keep their employees feeling connected, which will help combat feelings of loneliness,” she said.