Addressing sedentary and inactive lifestyles to improve employee wellbeing

Posted: Wed, 22 Aug 2018 07:06

By Dr Davina Deniszczyc, Charity Director and Primary Care Medical Director, Nuffield Health

Our working population is increasingly leading less healthy lives. With the change to the way we work, and how we commute, we are all become less active and it is costing us our health. The physical inactivity is also costing us in productivity - to the cost of around £7.4 billion a year.

In an effort to support employers tackling this inactivity, Nuffield Health recently released A Healthier Workplace - a white paper commissioned by Sport England, which examines the recent interventions to reduce physical inactivity and get employees moving.

What has changed?

Today employees are leading sedentary lives. Sedentary behaviour describes the lifestyle of someone who spends long periods without moving. Most workplaces fall into this category, with employees sitting at their desks for extended periods every day.

It's not completely different from physical inactivity, but inactivity means not doing things that get your heart rate up and make breathing heavier like high intensity exercise.

Our work is frequently desk based and, even with the time spent in the gym, it is difficult to get the recommended amount of physical exercise in the day even if people hit the gym out of work hours.

Research suggests sedentary behaviour can be an independent health risk factor, which increases chances of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and certain types of cancer. So, hitting the gym every evening is still not enough if your employees sit at a desk all day.

Our white paper identifies that businesses have a limited understanding of the differences between the two, which makes it difficult for them to devise effective strategies for employee support.

The issue is it's difficult to accomplish this successfully unless an individual really commits to upping activity levels around their working day or during weekends.

Deciding the best approach

In reviewing the available literature on this topic, we found a distinct lack of strong evidence regarding interventions that would help to form robust investment cases. We also noticed different employee demographics respond better to some interventions than others.

The most effective techniques to increase physical activity were found to be a combination of workspace supervised exercise classes and group support. These practices are more efficient because they introduce a social element to exercise. Forming bonds with individuals provides many people with extra motivation to reach group health goals.

When it came to minimising sedentary behaviour, the best outcomes happened when interventions focused on addressing what many might consider to be an office staple: the office desk.

Research suggested that experimenting with active desks and activity prompts, produced better employee responses. Gentle nudges led to increased movements, and on the employees found they enjoyed the flexibility of being able to work standing up or sitting down when they wanted.

Taking the lead

Physical activity needs to be engrained in workplace culture from the top-down. There is no substitute for the C-suite getting personally involved. Serving as a role model can be particularly effective for wellness-related programs, but the process needs to be a priority for every manager, and fostering a culture that then champions those on the shop floor to bring that culture to life.

A good starting point is to keep conversations around healthy lifestyles positive, focusing on the benefits increased physical activity can bring, like increasing energy, job performance and emotional resilience both at work and in their personal lives.

However, employers need to approach personal issues sensitively so employees don't feel like their personal choices or actions are being criticised.

The benefits of an active workforce are clear, and so too are the risks associated with physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour. By incorporating a range of multi-component wellness offerings into today's workplace, organisations and employees have nothing to lose, but everything to gain.

For more insights and the details of further evaluation, download a copy of the report from the link below.

Tags: Sport England, Nuffield Health, workplace health, physical activity, move more