The risks of inactivity in the workplace

Here at Fusion, we help our clients to identify health problems early on, allowing support to be put in place sooner. We’ve already looked at the positive benefits of an active working strategy, which is one way to reduce the risks of health issues. But it’s also worth recognising the immediate risks attached to prolonged inactivity in work.

In 2016, to coincide with the Rio Olympics, a study of physical activity published in the Lancet suggested that an hour’s ‘brisk exercise’ each day offsets the risk of early death linked to desk-bound working.

With this in mind, we take a look at the health risks involved and how this type of exercise is important to your health and wellbeing.

The evidence against inactivity

Inactivity has been linked to 5.3 million deaths globally a year, compared with 5.1 million linked to smoking. It’s also known to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Current NHS guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. This may seem a lot but broken down over a 5-day week it’s only 30 minutes a day!

According to the Lancet research, the global cost of healthcare and lost productivity is estimated at $67.5bn (£50.8bn) per year.

The benefits of brisk exercise

Professor Ulf Ekelund of the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences and the University of Cambridge carried out a study that looked at the relationship between inactivity and premature death.

People were classed depending on their levels of activity and researchers looked at how many people died over a period of between two and fourteen years.

They found that those who sat for eight hours a day but were physically active had a much lower risk of premature death compared with people who sat for fewer hours a day but weren’t active. Those who would sit for a long time and were also inactive carried the greatest risk. 

Professor Ulf Ekelund said: "For many people who commute to work and have office-based jobs, there is no way to escape sitting for prolonged periods of time.

"An hour of physical activity per day is the ideal, but if this is unmanageable, then at least doing some exercise each day can help reduce the risk."

Dr Mike Loosemore, from the English Institute of Sport, reiterated the point that not many people would be able to manage an hour of brisk walking every day. "For the vast majority of people while the best way to stay healthy would be to do an hour of moderate activity a day, realistically the best place to start is reducing your sedentary behaviour at work by sitting less and try to increase whatever physical activity you are doing."

Our recommendations

We all lead busy lives but with a little planning and forethought, there’s usually a way to fit in some form of exercise during some part of the day/week. Here are a few ideas to help you out.

  • Work out a plan of the best time to fit exercise into your day.
  • Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes a day.
  • If you have children, get them involved too by walking to school.
  • Ask a friend to join you or set up a small group. The extra incentive and support will help.
  • Go for a run in the morning or cycle to work.
  • Go for a walk at lunchtime.
  • If you drive to work, park further away from the building
  • Take walking breaks at work
  • Go and make a cup of tea or walk around while on the phone
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift
  • Take a few minutes every day to relax.
  • Think positively to improve mental health and wellbeing.

Not only will these small changes improve the health and wellbeing of individuals but it can also help to control employee absence management.

You can read some more recommendations that relate to office design in the blog we wrote about absence management in the workplace for Paramount Interiors.

Sitting down is unavoidable in the modern workplace but, with a plan in place, it is possible to reduce the risks of inactivity. If you’d like to speak to us about how you can create an active working environment, contact our team today.

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Categories: EmployeesHealth & WellbeingOccupational Health

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