Bernard Dunne encourages companies to get involved in National Workplace Wellness Day on April 8

Clodagh Finn talks to former world champion boxer Bernard Dunne about the benefits of exercise and healthy eating in the workplace.

YOU get the impression that former world boxing champion Bernard Dunne has never had a bad day at work in his life.

Of course, he’s had his off-days just like anyone else but he loves what he does and if (or when) that changes, he does something about it.

Wellbeing, he says, is very important to him and that’s why he’s signed up to be part of National Workplace Wellbeing Day on April 8, an initiative designed to improve employees’ physical and mental health.

“Do anything that makes you feel better. Even five or 10 minutes of exercise can give you a lift,” Dunne tells Feelgood.

He lists off a range of simple, achievable health-giving actions that could make the workplace healthier: “walk up and down the stairs; make healthy meals or snacks available; do a lunchtime mile”.

This year, the focus of Wellbeing Day is on the lunchtime mile. 

Employers and employees all over the country are being asked to get out at lunchtime and walk, jog, cycle or swim a mile.

Bernard Dunne encourages companies to get involved in National Workplace Wellness Day on April 8

Bernard Dunne is a man who doesn’t believe in setting limits himself and his zeal and can-do attitude is catching. 

However, he says, it’s also very important to set realistic targets: “If you are starting from scratch, don’t try to run a marathon. 

"Start with reachable goals — changing your eating habits, walking a mile — and watch as you improve. The hardest part is to start. It’s not easy.”

And it has to be an activity that you enjoy, he says.

“When boxing started to feel like a chore, I knew it was time to move on,” he says explaining his decision to retire in 2012.

‘Retire’, however, is not quite the word because the former champ has never been busier. 

He is a performance and lifestyle coach to the Dublin Senior Football team; an Irish-language campaigner; a youth ambassador and father to two children, Caoimhe (nine) and Finnian (eight).

An average workday might involve picking up the kids, giving a talk, meeting people or working on a new series about Irish myths that he’s writing for RTÉ.

He also maintains a regular exercise regime; running, boxing or lifting weights in the gym several times a week. His wife Pamela and children are active, too.

“We are a freakishly active family. I can’t keep still”, he says, though he tries to give himself at least 10 to 20 minutes every day just to “chill”.

“It’s in everyone’s interest to be healthy, but take it in small steps. They can lead to big differences. 

"Good habits are as easy to create as bad ones”, he says, encouraging people to persevere and not to be put off when they have an off-day.

“There will be days when you don’t want to do anything — or you eat chocolate. Don’t give up; start again. I know I make mistakes when I speak Irish, but I don’t let it put me off.

It’s not about being a despot but raising awareness, he says. 

“Get started. Set yourself some realistic goals and make it fun. Nobody should tell you that you can’t.”

If that hasn’t already fired you up for next Friday, the research on what sitting for long periods can do to our health might. 

Several studies have linked a sedentary lifestyle to obesity, an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.

Now, a new study reveals that it’s not enough to run your heart out at lunchtime if you spend the rest of the evening slumped on a couch. 

The findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, show the benefits of regular exercise can be undone if you spend the rest of the day sitting down.

David Alter, a cardiovascular researcher at the University of Toronto, found that active people — gym-goers, runners, even triathletes — faced health risks if they spent long periods sitting down every day.

Muireann Cullen, manager of Nutrition & Health Foundation, the organisers of Workplace Wellbeing Day, certainly won’t have that problem as she works at an adjustable sit/standing desk. 

And she says even the simple act of standing up and down at any point in the day can help cut the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity or cancer. 

(Feelgood is now standing up while talking to Dr Cullen on the phone).

While there is an increasing awareness of the need for wellbeing in the workplace — more than four million workdays a year are lost through absenteeism in small businesses — Irish employees still think bosses should do more to encourage their staff to be healthier, according to an NHF survey of almost 1,000 Irish employees.

Dr Cullen says the survey found employees (seven in 10) were much more likely to stay longer with employers who showed an interest in their health and wellbeing.

“It could be as simple as putting a bowl of fruit on the table or organising a lunchtime mile or a pilates class. 

"Maybe there is someone on the staff who is a yoga teacher or a guitar teacher who might be delighted to share that with others,” she says.

She says it’s important to put workplace wellness on the business agenda and it is not just something for big companies to consider.

Last year, at the inaugural Workplace Wellbeing Day, nearly 200 companies took part, ranging in size from Bank of Ireland with its 11,000 employees right down to Fenero, a personal tax services company, with 11 employees.

Fenero is now a workplace wellbeing champion, promoting this year’s initiative and encouraging others to get involved.

CEO and founder Sinead Doherty says corporate wellbeing programmes are often considered the preserve of large or highly profitable companies, but small companies and those on a low budget can pack a serious punch with a strong wellbeing leader, a bit of creativity and a good company culture.

To promote wellness at work, Fenero introduced free six-monthly health checks for employees, free access to counselling, mindfulness sessions, 5k runs and sit-stand desks. 

To add an incentive, the person with the most improved health and fitness level — as judged by an independent visiting professional — was given a weekend away.

The benefits were enormous, not just among employees but on the bottom line. 

The Fenero CEO explains: “Some ways in which we have particularly felt the benefit in Fenero are: high employee engagement, productivity gains, high employee retention, more innovative thinking, low sickness days.” 

Even though the number of staff at Fenero is growing, now at 16, the number of sick days over the last year has fallen.

“I’m a huge advocate of personal wellbeing and supporting people to become the best versions of themselves. 

"However, as a business owner and an accountant, I do have an interest in making sure the numbers stack up too! 

"The financial case for investing in workplace wellbeing is very clear. It’s win-win.”

To get involved in this year’s National Workplace Wellness Day, see www.NHFIreland.ie/wellbeing 

10 steps to keep you healthy at work

* Walk up and down the stairs at work. If you’re on the seventh floor, walk to the third floor to start and then build up gradually.

* Take phone calls standing up.

* Consider investing in a sit/stand adjustable desk. They are more expensive than ordinary desks, but Ikea now stocks them.

* Have your meetings standing up, or hold walking meetings: go outside and walk around the block while discussing the agenda.

* Get out at lunchtime.

* Take screen breaks.

* Put fruit on your desk to discourage sugary snacks.

* Organise pilates/yoga/ exercise sessions at work.

* Introduce mindfulness sessions.

* Consider holding health talks or healthy eating cookery demonstrations.


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