Mens sana in corpore sano

Schools the world over have long sought to develop both mental and physical wellbeing, many of them even using the above quotation from Latin poet Juvenal as their school motto: a healthy mind in a healthy body. In the high street, gyms and fitness centers are now widespread, but much of the business world has been slower to catch on.

As well as keeping you generally healthier, physical exercise— especially aerobic exercise—helps you to relax and to recall things. It reduces stress by triggering the release of endorphins in the brain. At a simple biological level, it sends a burst of oxygenated blood into the brain, so arousing the nervous system generally. According to the Pasteur Institute, exercise stimulates the growth of dendrites and axons, and is, therefore, literally changing the state of your brain.

In an increasingly inactive world of couch potatoes and television, regular exercise has to be one of the most obvious things you can do to improve the state of your mind. And, if you are thinking that personal fitness may be a reasonable goal for individuals, but will never catch on at work in any organized way, consider the following example from one of Britain's leading supermarket chains, Sainsbury's, developed with learning and communications experts Purple Works. It is called the Fit for Life program.

In the past, most attempts to link performance to health and fitness have centered on the reduction of absenteeism.This placed the emphasis on an individual being present at work, rather than focusing on improving their performance.

Sainsbury's Finance Division recently began to explore the idea of creating a work environment that inspires health and fitness. For its director, Hamish Elvidge, this is one of the new challenges for leaders in the twenty-first century.The company has developed an approach that is every bit as much about leadership as it is about health and fitness.

A trial of the 'Fit for Life' program enabled the senior management team to learn enough about the links between fitness and the performance of the brain to make a decision to extend the approach to the whole division.

With Purple Works, they are creating an environment where people can experiment, learn, and decide for themselves why they want to take part, rather than just investing in facilities or forcing people to participate.The aim is to benefit both the individual and the company.

The program is multifaceted, using practical training sessions, workshops, information on the company intranet, and links to external sources of advice and support. Overall, the Sainsbury's team wants to raise energy levels to enable people to gain a better balance between home and work life and so perform better.

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