Physical activity and exercise

The benefits both to workers and to employers of a fit and healthy workforce are multiple: less absenteeism, more productivity and higher staff morale. The workplace can contribute to the goal of having a fit and healthy workforce in many ways. Physical activity is fundamental to energy balance and weight control, and contributes to social and mental well-being. According to WHO, it reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, of Type II diabetes and of colon cancer and breast cancer among women. Some work involves much physical activity, and it is important that this activity be conducted in a way that it does not causes injury or excessive fatigue. Some work involves little or no physical activity; together with other health trends associated with a sedentary lifestyle are detrimental to health. Regular moderated physical activity increased productivity in the workplace and lower worker absenteeism and turnover.

What can be done?

Many employers recognize they have a responsibility to protect the health and well-being of their workers. It may be possible for large enterprises to provide sport facilities on their premises. Most of the options for encouraging physical activity are much less expensive. For example, adjusting work organization to allow appropriate time slots for physical activity can be very effective, especially if it is part of a wider campaign on health promotion at the workplace, including information, education and other measures to create a social environment which is conducive to physical activity and exercise. Using senior staff as role models may be part of this process. Another important measure is using the physical layout of the workplace. For example, by encouraging the use of stairs rather than lifts with the purpose of making use of a facility already in place in many buildings. Travelling to work on foot or by bike, either all or part of the way can also be encouraged. This may involve providing showering facilities, or collaboration with the community to provide safe walkways and cycle paths. The advantage of using commuting as an opportunity for physical exercise is that it integrates into the current activities of already busy lives, rather than taking extra time out of other activities. Whatever measures are taken worker consultation throughout the process should be incorporated to ensure that activities are responding to the needs and preferences of those concerned.