Information taken from the BITC – Wellbeing – Physical Activity toolkit
Supporting employees to increase their levels of physical activity is a positive step towards helping them maintain good physical and mental health and a healthier weight. Physical activity is also conducive to good mental health, while lack of physical activity significantly raises the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders, which are the single biggest cause of absence from work. There are many ways you can help employees to be more active, from encouraging screen breaks or cordless phones to allow employees to walk around the workplace, to providing secure bike racks and changing facilities for people who can cycle to work. Evidence shows that a workplace’s culture is the most important factor in the success of a physical activity promotion programme
Sedentary behaviour is a risk factor for poor physical and mental health, independent of people’s level of physical activity. Even those who are physically active outside work can be adversely affected by sitting still for several hours during their working day. There is a case for employers to target sedentary behaviour in the workplace, as a separate but interlinked issue to physical activity. Technological advancements in the workplace have made prolonged sitting (e.g. in front of an electronic screen) the norm for many adults’ working lives. Prolonged sitting has been linked to premature death, heart disease, certain cancers and Type 2 diabetes.
Employers should focus not only on increasing physical activity levels among their employees, as per the Chief Medical Officer recommendations (either 150 minutes moderate intensity activity a week, 75 minutes vigorous activity a week or both) but also on reducing sitting time, especially at work.
- Mental ill-health, stress and musculoskeletal problems are the three leading causes of long-term absence and all three are associated with a lack of physical activity (1).
- Studies have shown that physical activity helps mental health in many ways including improved mood, reduced stress, increased self-esteem, prevention/management of depression and anxiety.
- The annual cost to UK business from physically inactive workers is £6.6billion (2).
- Physical inactivity is responsible for one in six premature deaths (3).
- Physically inactive people lose up to four and a half working days per year compared to active people (4).