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Encouraging Physical Activity in the Workplace

23rd March 2020

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), people in the UK are some of the least active in the world. Sedentary lifestyles, defined as a lifestyle were the recipient does not receive regular amounts of physical activity, significantly increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease as well as many more health issues and it is also considered one of the leading causes of death globally.

New technology has exacerbated the sedentary lifestyle problem and as a result, more people are tending to remain in prone positions. With this in mind, many people’s lives revolve around a computer, TV, smartphone or games console; all of which encourage a sedentary lifestyle. On top of this many workplaces also utilise computers and tasks that encourage staff to remain seated. There is also an increase in people forgoing their allocated breaks and eating at their desk.

So what can be done?

The best posture is the next posture, so it is important that we continue to change positions as often as we can. We recommend that employees move position at least once an hour if not more. Standing from a sitting position can be beneficial. In fact, standing for a period of time will increase our muscle usage, particularly in the leg’s, abdomen and back; burning calories and reducing the risk of diabetes.

Many businesses have started to implement standing desks and treadmill desks. Standing desks, allow employees to change the height of their workstation, allowing them to stand for short periods of time without affecting productivity.  However, we must emphasise that standing for too long can also cause health issues, such as musculoskeletal problems. Treadmill desks can add movement to an employee’s daily routine. These desks can benefit employees by reducing the risk of diabetes, lowering blood pressure, reducing stress and ultimately increasing productivity.

Implementing walking meetings can be beneficial to the health of everyone. It makes physical activity accessible in the workplace, stimulates creativity and encourages positive communication by placing the manager and employees in an equal environment without barriers.

Designing your office environment can help encourage employees to move within work. Centralising the printers and bins rather than having one at each desk can encourage the employee to get up out of their seat.

Breaks should be encouraged to give employees the opportunity to change their posture. This can also impact positively on their stress levels, with research showing that those eating at their desk can be less relaxed, more stressed and less productive.  Allowing employees to get up and make a brew also encourages movement within the workplace. Additionally, implementing physical activity initiatives such as walking lunches or fitness classes at lunchtime can encourage employees to gather socially to support each other in their endeavours to become healthier.

Promoting agile working policies can discourage people from the habitual behaviour of using one desk, it can also empower them to work wherever they choose, without constraint to optimise their productivity.

Providing employees with information either through leaflets and posters and/or training courses can also raise awareness of the potential harm staying in the same position can have on them.

It is all well and good implementing changes and initiatives that encourage physical activity in the workplace, but this on its own won’t work, unless we address the culture within the workplace. Culture will always eat strategy for breakfast and so to successfully implement a physical activity strategy we need to keep it in line with the culture; and any barriers that need to be addressed. The cycle of thinking: “I’m working, so I must be at my desk” needs to be eliminated.

Thinking cycle

It’s important that the employer encourages and supports their employees to make changes that will increase their physical activity within the workplace. Employees should be confident enough to know that they will not be measured by time spent at the desk, but instead via objectives and outcomes.

Overall, any business should be able to adapt their environment to one that improves the health of their employees, resulting in not just a healthier workforce, but a more productive and happier one too.

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