If you’re telling your employees to join the gym, could you be giving them bad advice?

Dr Julia Jones Photo

On the back of World Health Day (7th April), we’re continuing our focus this week on physical health and garnering more views on how this can be encouraged in the fast-evolving world of employee wellbeing.

There are many, sometimes opposing opinions emerging in this field and our job here at Make A Difference Media is to help employers find the right solutions for their employees and embed a holistic, inclusive, preventative approach right across their organisation.

With this in mind, it was good to speak with Dr Julia Jones, who was a sport and exercise scientist who moved into sports psychology, then neuroscience, working with the NHS and Team GB, for her potentially controversial perspective on this issue. She isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo, or even change her own mind about what strategies work best – which is exactly what she’s done in recent years as she’s learnt more about physical health and the most effective ways to effect meaningful change.

As always with employee wellbeing, there is never one size that fits all – could Dr Julia’s simplified approach to physical health work for your organisation?

We asked her for thoughts on the best way that employers can get their employees physically healthy…

This is what she said:

“For decades I was telling people to join the gym and do fitness protocols but, following my
extensive research, I’ve become fascinated by the fact that as the diet and fitness sector has
grown over the last 50 years, so has the scale of the health crisis. Everything we’ve been
telling people to do for decades hasn’t worked. But we’re still telling them the same thing!

My 5-year research project identified that all approaches requiring ongoing effort and/or cost
simply cannot be sustained for a lifetime by most people. These routines don’t align with our
evolutionary biology.

Corporate gym memberships fall into this trap – people dip in and out of them because they require effort which is unsustainable.

Especially when you consider that many people in the workplace are already feeling overwhelmed and in a perpetual state of busyness.

So what should we be telling them?

We need to find ways that are low effort, low cost and very highly aligned with our
evolutionary biology.

I’ve distilled these down to a few simple ‘habit hacks’ that emerged from my research as
most sustainable. These are now the only things I teach.

Habit Hacks:


Firstly, the type of movement you do in the gym doesn’t align with our evolutionary biology so requires effort to maintain. Our brain’s reward circuits go back to our caveman days when we would move to go and find food, or other humans so we could reproduce. Movement just happened through those survival activities. It was a byproduct of those other things we were doing.

So, for me, that’s how I live; movement is a byproduct of what I’m doing. I cancelled my gym membership, and I’ll never join another. You just need to stand up frequently throughout your day and get a few thousand steps in and you’ll significantly improve your health. 

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I’ll do a walk at lunchtime along the beach where I live, which is much better than rushing in the car to the gym in between Zoom calls. I added a hill walk into the route and I have a couple of dumbbells by my bed which I pick up as I get up.

There’s so much being talked about how you have to do high intensity workouts and other fitness fads. On paper the science stacks ups, but they can’t be susmaintained, so they don’t work in the long term.

It’s actually the small low-effort, free things, and embracing everyday movement like walking meetings or taking the stairs at work, that works much more effectively long-term. Many employees of my larger corporate clients often probably don’t even know where the stairs are.

The emphasis on fitness culture can create ‘exercise shaming’ for those that don’t like to use the gym.


Another thing we’re doing that doesn’t match our evolutionary biology is we are eating across a much too long time period, sometimes 16-hours. We never had such frequent access to food in the past. I encourage people to reduce their eating window to eight to twelve hours.

So, that means an earlier dinner and/or later breakfast.

We’ve spent years brainwashing people that breakfast has to be consumed as soon as we wake, but it’s just not true! Many leading longevity scientists now are having just one meal a day so they regularly enter a fasted state to boost cellular health.


Modern life chronically triggers our fight or fight response. We need to slow down our breath and retrain our autonomic nervous system to be predominantly in parasympathetic mode. That means breathing at six breaths per minute and extending your exhales to maximum benefit.

I’ve recently designed Music Hack tracks with Universal Production Music to help people practice that rhythm of pace. I was first taught this technique during a visit to a US Navy SEALs base in the early 1990s and yet it’s still not yet common practice in the workplace.

Early Daylight

Get early daylight exposure in the morning to give the Circadian neurons the blue light signal they need to regulate quality sleep.

It took a long time for me to admit that as a profession we’d got it wrong for so many decades. But now we know why everything to date has failed and it’s time to turn attention to helping employees making the low-effort, free, tweaks to a handful of habits that can quickly benefit their wellness pillars and have the potential to improve their future health outcome too.”

For more info on Julia’s work visit www.holidity.com

She will also be speaking at The Watercooler on ‘The new normal – the secret to lasting habit change’, along with TV Presenter and Journalist Steph McGovern. You can find out more and register here.

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