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Active Workplaces

Active Workplaces

Active Workplaces

Jarrod Wilson (Exercise Physiologist – Burnie)

Here’s something to think about… Australians spend approximately one third of their life at work.

It is well established that low cardio-respiratory fitness causes significantly more deaths than other risk factors (high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol). There is also a strong relationship between sedentary behaviours and low productivity in the workforce. It would make sense then to view the workplace as a priority setting for health promotion, to encourage physical activity and reduce sitting times.

Approximately 65% of the Australian population aged over 15 years old are currently in the work- force. 68.5% of these people are classified as sedentary and engage in only low level physical activity.

Research shows that engaging in workplace health programs results in:

  • 25% reduction in sick-leave
  • 40% decrease in worker’s compensation costs and
  • 2% decrease in disability management costs

Introducing exercise into the workplace can also:

  • Improve employee engagement and morale
  • Increase concentration and productivity
  • Improve team relationships and work culture
  • Reduce stress levels
  • Reduce sickness-related absenteeism
  • Improve corporate image

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Presenteeism vs Absenteeism

Presenteeism is the loss of productivity when employees come to work but are not fully functioning because of injury or illness. Absenteeism is when an employee does not attend work due to injury or illness. Over the course of time presenteeism can result in lower work performance than absenteeism. The cost of presenteeism to workplaces is approximately $26 billion per year (more than 4x the cost of absenteeism). Depression, allergies, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes account for a large percentage of presenteeism.

Physical Activity

The World Health Organisation recommends that adults aged 18-64 years old should engage in at least 5x30minute sessions per week to promote and maintain good health. A combination of moderate and vigorous intensity exercise can be used to meet these guidelines. Physical activity has been proven to be effective in the treatment of three out of the four major contributors to presenteeism. It therefore plays an important role in improving productivity within the Australian workforce.

The Problem with Modern Workplaces

If you think about most workplaces in this day and age, they involve labour-saving devices which force workers to sit for longer periods. The typical office work setting is structured to promote sedentary behaviour (e.g. chairs, ergonomic desks, desktop computers). These workers therefore have difficulty meeting the minimum requirements for daily physical activity.

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The Solution

Research shows that interrupting sitting time with light intensity activity (standing or casual-paced walking) can be potent enough to result in significant health benefits. Regular breaks from sitting should be encouraged in the workplace to promote better health of employees.

Ideally siting time should be interrupted every 30 minutes for 2 minutes, or at least every hour for a 2-4 minute period (standing, walking). This time does not have to be a break from work as it can involve a work-related task.

Exercising At Work

Taking a brief moment to perform some exercises and stretches whilst at work can help alleviate tightness and stiffness and promote circulation around the body. Here are some examples of effective exercises that take no time or equipment to complete – For more information on what is best for your individual needs, it is best to speak with your local Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist:

Exercises You Can Perform at Your Desk

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Exercises You Can Perform at a Worksite

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So remember Active Employees are Productive Employees! It is time to recognise the detrimental effect that prolonged sitting has on health and for us as in the working community to do something about it!

If you are an employee consider what you have just read – think about ways you can incorporate more activity into your work schedule and make the most of breaks in your workday to become more active.

If you are an employer consider promoting physical activity, have active meetings, allow for time for your employees to stretch and move about, introduce a step-challenge for the month and think about implementing stand-up work desks. With your employees becoming more active at work it will encourage them to be more productive and improve their morale and their role within your business model. It may also be worthwhile seeking advice from Coastal Physiotherapy and find out what we can do to help improve the health of your workplace.

Call our Burnie clinic today on 64314586.

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1 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2006). National Health Survey: summary of results 2004-5. ABS, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.

2 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2011). Physical activity in Australia: A snapshot, 2007-8. ABS, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.

3 Health and Productivity Institute of Australia (HPIA) (2010). Best practice guidelines – workplace health in Australia. HPIA, Sydney, New South Wales, p. 7.

4 World Health Organisation (2007) ‘Workers’ Health Global Plan of Action’, Sixtieth World Health Assembly, [online], [2009, October 16].

5 Council of Australian Governments (2008) National Partnership Agreement on Preventative Health [online], Available: [2009, October 16].

6 National Preventative Health taskforce (2008) paper ‘Australia – The Healthiest Country by 2020’, [online], Available: [2009, April 6].

7 Exercise is Medicine Australia (2012) ‘Physical Activity in the Workplace: A Guide’.

8 Katzmarzyk, PT, et al. 2010, ‘Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease and cancer’, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 172, no. 4, pp. 419-29.

9 Lees, FD, Clark, PG, Nigg, CR, Newman, P 2005, Barriers to exercise behaviour among older adults’, Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 23-33.

10 Sjogren, T 2006, ‘Effectiveness of a workplace physical exercise intervention on the functioning, work ability, and subjective well-being of office workers’, ‘Studies in Health, Physical Education and Health, vol. 99, no. 1, pp. 100-101.

11 Anderson, LL 2011, ‘Influence of psychosocial work environment on adherence to workplace exercise, J Occup Environ Med., vol. 53, no. 2, pp. 182-4.