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Physical activity is essential for good health. Workplaces can help increase physical activity levels, and thus improve the health of employees, reduce sickness absence and increase productivity.
Physical inactivity has been linked to an increased risk of a range of health conditions including, coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, osteoporosis, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity and mental health problems.
On the other hand, evidence shows that undertaking physical activity can help to prevent disease, maintain a healthy weight and promote mental health and wellbeing
The Scottish Health Survey is the key tool used by the Scottish Government to measure physical activity levels in Scotland. Findings from the most recent survey (2009) show that on average 63% of adults in Scotland are not active enough for their health (68% of women and 57% of men).
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Staff ill health has cost implications for businesses through loss of production, early retirement, staff turnover and absenteeism (both through long term sick pay and the cost of temporary staff).
Back pain is the most common cause of sickness absence from work in the UK, with an estimated 16 million people affected each year, at a cost to industry of £5.7 billion each year. Meanwhile, evidence shows that physical activity can reduce a person's risk from suffering from back pain and can also aid recovery from back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders.
Work related stress, depression and anxiety form the second most common reasons for work related sickness absence, costing the UK economy between £3.7 and £7 billion each year. However, physical activity has been shown to have an anxiety-reducing effect and single sessions of moderate intensity exercise have been shown to reduce short term reactions to stress and enhance recovery from stressors.
The 2003 paper Let's Make Scotland More Active: A Strategy for Physical Activity highlights the fact that 'workplaces are an ideal setting to reach a large section of the adult population' and further notes that, "pressure of work" is one of the most common barriers to increasing physical activity ... with time being scarce, the convenience of being active at and through work can be very attractive. → View Let's Make Scotland More Active: A Strategy for Physical Activity online (external site)
Evidence suggests that physical activity can benefit an organisation because active workforces tend to:
* According to the Physical Activity Task Force, 2003, physically active employees take 27% fewer days of sick leave. This equates to over two days' improved attendance and a savings of £135 per employee.
In adults 18-64 physical activity includes leisure time physical activity, transportation (eg walking or cycling), occupational (ie work), household chores, play, games, sports or planned exercise, in the context of daily, family and community activities. The World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Recommendations state that in order to improve cardio respiratory and muscular fitness, bone health, reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases and depression:
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Employers can promote and encourage increased levels of activity in a number of ways.
It is recommended that employers develop an organisational wide plan or policy to support employees to be more physically active.
Suggestions on how to encourage employees to be more physically active include:-
Nice Guidance on Physical Activity (external site) The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has developed a tool that can allow employers to calculate the potential costs and benefits of developing a workplace physical activity scheme.
Cycling Scotland (external site) National agency promoting cycle use. Site includes information on how your organisation can promote active travel and register for the Cycle Friendly Employer programme.
Paths for All (external site)Information on walking for health, including a section on promoting walking to work and in the workplace.
Sustrans (external site) Website of the UK sustainable transport charity, including information on walking and cycling routes and groups across the UK.
Jogscotland (external site) Information on Jogscotland's gentle walking, jogging and running programmes that encourage everyone to get out and be active and general advice on walking, jogging and running.
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