Workplaces can assist in promoting fitness, but working conditions remain a significant barrier. We all know that regular exercise is beneficial to our health, yet even with the best of intentions, many workers do not exercise as much as they should.
To encourage more active workers in all types of organizations, public health messages must shift away from making it solely an individual’s responsibility to be more active. Instead, it should emphasize the critical role that companies can play in establishing the conditions for people to prioritize exercise.
This strategy has a lot to recommend it. Focusing on workplaces may appear to be low-hanging fruit in terms of public health because they are locations where people already go every day. Consider the resources needed to create activity-friendly surroundings, much less address the core social reasons for physical inactivity. The reality, however, is more difficult.
Workplace fitness is aided by on-site gyms and access to walking trails or stairs. The World Health Organization recommends that individuals aim for at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent mix.
The impact of stressful work lives on exercise participation is a reality for many people, especially when conflicting responsibilities such as child care are present. However, the ability to overcome these obstacles can vary depending on the work.
Standing desks, stairs, on-site showers and gyms, and easy access to walking trails can make it easier for individuals to fit in exercise and reduce inactive time at work. However, these are primarily offered to white-collar, higher-income individuals who face fewer impediments to exercising outside of work.
Enhancing worker responsibility for increasing physical activity may worsen health disparities between high- and low-income workers. Low-income workers in non-standard or precarious jobs sometimes have limited control over how they spend their working hours. Outside of work, these workers have minimal opportunity to exercise and engage in other healthy behaviors.
Some manual labor professions require a lot of physical activity with little opportunity to relax, whereas workers in the service sector may have to stand for lengthy periods of time. A growing number of studies demonstrate the possible impact of various professional activities, including the dangers of physical exercise for those who work in such jobs.
Because of factors such as the nature of the movements and the duration of labor, job-related physical activity does not always deliver the same health advantages as leisure-time exercise, and can even have detrimental effects.
Many workers will be unable to meet physical activity goals aimed at all people. A more inclusive option is for companies to create thriving environments for their employees so that they can prioritize their health as well.
This approach encourages companies to see workplace policies as levers for addressing the safety, health, and well-being of their employees.
What might such a strategy entail? One example is an insurance company that provides flexible scheduling and telecommuting choices to help its employees avoid stress. As a result, workers were walking more, taking breaks away from their desks, and participating in stress-relieving social activities such as ping-pong tournaments and indoor nerf basketball tournaments.
Employers who wish to establish an atmosphere favorable to their employees’ safety, health, and well-being should consult with their employees about how rules and practices can help them achieve those goals.
While there is no simple solution to getting workers more physically active, getting employers involved in improving working circumstances so that more people are supported in enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise is an important step forward.