With the Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines* released by the Department of Health this month indicating almost three quarters of all Australians are not active enough, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) has called on business owners and operators to introduce structured physical activity programs into the workplace.
ESSA Executive Officer Anita Hobson-Powell said with Australians working an average of around 33 hours per week** while also juggling family and social commitments, it was no surprise that physical activity had taken a back seat for so many people.
“It’s troubling to think that almost 70 per cent of Australian adults are either sedentary or report low levels of physical activity — a lifestyle choice that has been proven to increase the risk and severity of a long list of chronic diseases,” Ms Hobson-Powell said.
“As a group, Australians are becoming increasingly time poor so it’s helpful to remember that work and exercise don’t need to be mutually exclusive.”
“Many office workers think they can only slot in physical activity sessions before or after work — and these are often skipped due to lack of time — but the reality is exercise can be incorporated into the average workday. Parking a little further away from the office and walking the rest of the way or getting off at an earlier bus stop can have you exercising before the day even starts; or simple changes like incorporating outdoor or walking meetings into your day not only keep you active but also help get the creative juices flowing!”
Ms Hobson-Powell said employees were not the only ones to benefit from increased physical activity in the workplace, with business owners also able to take advantage of increased employee productivity.
“Research has shown that engaging in workplace health programs results in a 25 per cent reduction in sick leave and a 40 per cent decrease in worker compensation costs,” Ms Hobson-Powell said.
“A study from researchers at Stockholm University*** has also indicated that employees that spend approximately 2.5 hours per week exercising during work hours attain the same or higher productivity levels than their non-physically active counterparts.”
Studies have indicated that participating in regular physical activity reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, prevents unhealthy weight gain, and can maintain or even improve blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels*. Regular exercise in the workplace has also been associated with improved employee morale, as well as reduced stress levels.
The Department of Health’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommends Australians participate in 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity each week.
Ms Hobson-Powell said businesses looking to incorporate a physical activity program in their workplace could access resources from Exercise Is Medicine Australia — a global initiative managed by ESSA.
“Exercise Is Medicine Australia offers dedicated resources, interactive tools and workplace programs for both employers and employees.”
“As part of their Active Workplaces program, workers are encouraged to firstly participate in a survey that assesses existing physical activity levels and readiness to participate in workplace programs — a key component of increasing employee engagement.”
“Once this is complete, the results are used to establish a workplace health program that is tailored to suit the respective business. The effectiveness of the program can be reassessed by repeating the simple survey after six months.”
Ms Hobson-Powell said merely interrupting sitting time in the office for one or two minutes every hour had the potential to make a huge difference to the lives of Australian workers.
“Something as simple as taking phone calls standing up or arranging for informal meetings to be held outside can have a big impact on employee health over the course of a year.”
Five simple ways to create a healthy workplace
1. Active meetings — Take informal meetings outside and, where possible, make it a walking meeting.
2. Active deskwork — Set hourly reminders in your calendar to take a break. Link your reminder to a different Exercise Is Medicine stretch video each hour (available atwww.exerciseismedicine.org.au/active-workplaces).
3. Active commute— Make your commute to work active. Stand up on the train or get off the bus a stop early and walk the rest of the way.
4. Active lunch — Avoid spending your lunch break at your desk. Get up and go for a 15 minute walk with a colleague before or after you eat.
5. Active teams — Set a team goal to participate in a local fun run or walk. Check out the PACE calendar at www.exerciseismedicine.org.au/active-workplaces/events to find an event near you.
*Department of Health, Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. January 2014. http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines/$File/Brochures_PAG_Adults18-64yrs.PDF.
**Australian Bureau of Statistics, Measures of Australia’s Progress 2010. Updated 13 November 2013.www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/2f762f95845417aeca25706c00834efa/a69a78cc63fdf8cdca25779e001c47a0!OpenDocument.
***Ulrica von Thiele Schwarz, Henna Hasson, Employee Self-rated Productivity and Objective Organizational Production Levels. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2011. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110906121011.htm.