What health issues can a sedentary lifestyle cause?

Our lifestyles are increasingly sedentary, with office-based jobs and leisure activities such as reading or watching TV. Commuting by car, bus or train also contributes to long hours sitting down. Studies have linked inactivity with various health issues including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and poor mental health.

As physical activity levels among adults continue to decline, promoting physical activity at work can improve employee morale and well-being, and avoid potential health issues long term.

The benefits of a physically active workforce

Healthy employees are good for business, with lower rates of absenteeism and increased productivity. When you support employees' increased physical activity, you also make them happier and more engaged. Regular physical activity at work can also promote better workplace relationships.

Promoting physical activity in the workplace involves creating a culture which prioritises physical health and an environment which enables physical activity.

How to encourage physical activity at work

You may already understand why it's a good idea to encourage employees to become more physically active, but how can you promote physical activity in practice? There are various ways, both cultural and practical, to promote physical activity in the workplace.

Here are our tips to help you encourage physical activity in the workplace.

Get to know your employees

Getting to know your employees helps you understand the obstacles that stand in the way of them increasing their physical activity levels. A sedentary, office-based job is likely a significant factor. However, each employee has different needs and circumstances. Some employees may have disabilities or other physical limitations that impact their ability to become physically active or limit the types of physical activity they can do. Understanding where an employee may be starting from enables you to encourage employees to increase their physical activity in realistic ways.

The potential issue is that employees may be reluctant to share personal information. Employees have different fitness levels, and an employee may feel unable to go to a gym because they don't want to stand out. Health insurance can help by offering confidential health screening or assessments and planning to support employees in setting and achieving their physical activity goals.

Lead by example

Whatever steps you take to promote physical activity in the workplace, leading by example increases the chances that your measures will succeed. For example, a lunchtime walking club promotes physical activity, but staff members are more likely to join in if they see the boss taking a break for a lunchtime walk, too.

Regular lunch breaks can enhance employee well-being. However, consider whether your workplace culture encourages eating a sandwich at your desk while continuing to work rather than taking a proper break.

Encourage regular breaks

We've mentioned the importance of creating a company culture that promotes taking regular breaks. A lunch break enables employees to go for a walk. This type of physical activity has health benefits, including movement, but also allows employees to get some fresh air and sunshine. This can help to build healthy bones, lower stress levels and improve focus. Providing information about local walking paths and routes can help employees discover their local area.

However, shorter breaks throughout the day can also increase physical activity levels, even if employees only walk as far as the kitchen to make a hot drink.

Find opportunities for movement throughout the day

You can help employees get more physical activity during the day by finding ways of working that encourage employees to move rather than sitting. For example, walking meetings may be an option providing you aren't discussing confidential information. Alternatively, walking to external meetings can add extra steps to your daily total. Consider having standing meetings rather than sitting; this has the added benefit of keeping meetings short and to the point.

Sit-stand desks enable employees to change position frequently and improve their posture which reduces their risk of musculoskeletal issues.

Other simple steps can include displaying signs to encourage employees to take the stairs instead of using the lift. NICE offers more guidance on ways to increase employees' physical activity.

Create workplace activity groups

Lunchtime walking clubs are great for getting employees out into the fresh air during their break. However, you can also encourage physical activity by organising other activity sessions.

For example, you could arrange for a fitness instructor to come into the office and run a yoga or Pilates class suitable for people with different fitness levels. This enables staff who may struggle to find time to exercise to become physically active. You'll need to consider practical elements such as changing facilities and whether staff may need a shower after class.

Company gym membership

If you have a fitness centre near your office, a corporate membership allows your staff to exercise during breaks, or before and after work depending on their circumstances. Fitness clubs typically offer various facilities including a gym, swimming pool and fitness classes so employees can choose their preferred activity. Many also offer personal training with guidance on ways to improve physical health and set healthy goals. Many workplaces now offer on-site gyms, which is worth considering if you have the space.

It's also worth thinking about what would encourage staff to use their membership. Flexible work hours can allow employees to come in slightly later, leave earlier or take a longer lunch break to fit in a workout around their other commitments.

Promote active travel

Your employees may spend a long time sitting depending on how they travel to work. Travelling by car can involve long hours behind the wheel. They may also spend time sitting on a bus or train depending on how busy the service is.

Promoting active commuting can enhance employee well-being. It may not be practical for employees to walk to work, but you can encourage walking by suggesting they get off the bus a few stops earlier and walk the rest of the way.

The Government's Cycle to Work scheme enables workers to get discounts on bikes and pay for them via salary sacrifice to encourage active commuting. It encourages physical activity and reduces your employees' tax bills.

Offer health and well-being education

Health education can motivate employees to take charge of their physical health and engage in regular physical activity, both in the workplace and in their own time. Getting to know your employees can help you to offer education on relevant topics. However, consider providing information or running workplace well-being talks on various subjects so there's something for everyone.

How employee health insurance can help

Business health insurance provides access to private healthcare but also offers tools and services to encourage employees to improve their health, and support you in developing worksite wellness programs and providing information to promote physical activity among your workforce.

Discounts on gym memberships and fitness-tracking technology

Most health insurers offer rewards and discounts on products and services which help your employees improve their physical health. These can include discounted gym memberships, fitness trackers and spa breaks. Some offer greater rewards to members who hit their physical activity targets, for example, by participating in their local Parkrun or a set number of gym sessions each month.

Discounts can support healthy living and promote physical activity in other ways, such as with stop-smoking programs that help to reduce breathlessness and increase an individual's ability to take regular physical activity.

Support for employees in setting and achieving health goals

Many business health insurance policies include access to health assessments to give employees a benchmark of their overall health each year. Specialist advisors then support employees in setting health goals and offer accountability and tools to work towards them.

Insurers also offer additional paid health assessments including screening tests tailored to your individual health goals. For example, an employee who's new to physical activity can choose a general assessment while someone who already runs regularly can access one designed to improve performance.

Many rewards programs also include discounts on various screening tests so employees can choose services relevant to their needs.

Help to create a workplace well-being initiative

If your business health insurance includes employee health assessments your insurers can provide anonymised data showing health trends among your workforce. These services prioritise employee confidentiality so your staff can speak in confidence without worrying that their health information will affect their employment. As a result, these policies are often only available to businesses with a minimum number of employees. Other services are available separately at an additional charge and only provide health data once you've enrolled a minimum number of employees.

The information your insurer provides can help you develop appropriate worksite wellness programs. Some insurers also offer support in devising effective strategies. Many insurers provide online resources that you can use as part of your health education efforts, or signpost your employees towards them to explore according to their interests.

Get in touch

At Globacare, we help our clients find the right insurance for their businesses and employees. If you’d like to learn more about how health insurance can support increased physical activity in the workplace, get in touch. We’re a regulated broker and will provide advice tailored to your circumstances.

Will Forsyth
Sales Manager

Will Forsyth

Will has over 11 years of experience, five with us and six with Axa Health before that. He's knowledgeable on many products, including health insurance, life insurance and business protection.

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