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  Frequently Asked Questions About Physical Activity in the Workplace

What do you mean by physical activity in the workplace?

Physical activity in the workplace means encouraging employees to be physically active to, from or at work.

In terms of being active to and from work, employees can choose active transportation, by maximizing use of active modes and methods of travel wherever possible, such as walking, cycling or in-line skating instead of driving or taking the bus.

While at work, employees should be encouraged to incorporate activity into their day wherever possible, such as having 'walking meetings' instead of sitting in a boardroom; taking the stairs instead of the elevator; signing up for a lunchtime fitness class; or choosing to walk documents to another employee instead of relying on an inter-office mail system.

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Why is physical activity in the workplace important?

There are many compelling reasons. For example, 15 million Canadians spend one half of their waking hours at work. A majority cite time as their major impediment to increasing their physical activity. It is vital, therefore, to find ways of increasing physical activity to, from and at the workplace.

The latest Health Canada Population Health Survey shows that people who are inactive at work are also inactive at home. Research also indicates that there may be increased costs for organizations that have physically inactive employees. Some of these costs include: increased employee benefit costs, reduced productivity, and increased absenteeism.

Furthermore, workplaces that encourage regular physical activity report:

  • Increased productivity and morale
  • Reduced injury rates
  • Better employee relations
  • Improved job satisfaction and team spirit
  • Improved employee health and fitness

Finally, being physically active can have a dramatic impact on your health. People who are physically active enjoy:

  • Better health
  • Improved fitness
  • Better posture and balance
  • Better self-esteem
  • Weight control
  • Stronger muscles and bones
  • More energy
  • Relaxation and reduced stress
  • Continued independent living later in life

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What are the risks of not being physically active in the workplace?

People who don't get enough physical activity either at work or at home risk:

  • Premature death
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • High-blood pressure
  • Adult-onset diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Colon cancer

Employees who aren't physically active can have a negative impact on businesses, such as:

  • increased employee benefit costs
  • reduced productivity
  • decreased employee satisfaction
  • increased absenteeism
  • increased short- and long-term disability payments
  • increased levels of worker's compensation

Fatigue, inattention, and accidents are also more common among inactive employees. In fact, research suggests that physical inactivity is as dangerous to your health as smoking.

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Just how much physical activity is needed to achieve health benefits anyway?

Scientists say accumulate 60 minutes of physical activity every day to stay healthy or improve your health. Time needed depends on effort -- as you progress to moderate activities, you can cut down to 30 minutes, 4 days a week.

Add up your activities during the day in periods of at least 10 minutes each. Start slowly...and build up! If you're already doing some light activities, like walking, move up to more moderate ones, like in-line skating. A little is good, but more is better, if you want to achieve health benefits.

Physical activity doesn't have to be very hard to improve your health. This goal can be reached by building physical activities into your daily routine, like trying to build active transportation into your day to and from work. Just add it up in periods of at least 10 minutes each throughout the day. After three months of regular physical activity, you will notice a difference -- people often say getting started is the hardest part.

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What are the latest facts about physical activity levels for Canadians of old enough to be in the workforce?

The most recent data about physical activity levels in Canada underscore the need for more improvement, as almost half of Canadians still remain not active enough to achieve or maintain health benefits.

Statistics Canada's Canadian Community Health Survey examines physical activity levels in Canada every two years. The results of the most recent survey show that:

  • Slightly over half of adults aged 20 and older are inactive, an improvement compared to 62% in 1994-95
  • Physical inactivity levels generally worsen as we move from west to east
  • By province, physical inactivity levels for Canadians aged 12 and over are:
    Yukon 38%
    Northwest Territories 42%
    Nunavut 60%
    British Columbia 39%
    Alberta 43%
    Saskatchewan 48%
    Manitoba 47%
    Ontario 47%
    Quebec 51%
    Nova Scotia 50%
    New Brunswick 52%
    Newfoundland 53%
    Prince Edward Island 53%
  • More women (50%) than men (44%) are inactive
  • Physical inactivity increases with age
  • Substantial inroads were made at reducing physical inactivity levels between 1981 and 2003, but much still remains to be done

Canada's Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living recommends that to achieve health benefits, adults need to accumulate 30-60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week, preferably every day.

The Guide also indicates that there should be a mix of endurance activities (those that work the heart and lungs), flexibility activities (bending, stretching to keep muscles relaxed and joints mobile) and strength activities (those that strengthen muscles and bones plus improve posture).

Rates of obesity and overweight have been increasing steadily over the last 20 years:

  • According to the Canadian Community Health Survey, by 2003, 15% of adult Canadians were considered obese and 33% were considered overweight. An estimated 47% were in the normal range, and about 3% were underweight.
  • About 16% of adult men were considered obese, slightly higher than the rate of 14% among adult women. Rates of obesity were highest in the 45 to 64 age group.

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What are some ways to be more physically active in the workplace?

Try Stairway to Health, an interactive, web-based resource for employers and employees to encourage stair use rather than the elevators as one cost-effective means to incorporate healthy physical activity into daily work life. Visit www.healthcanada.ca/stairwaytohealth to climb virtual mountains and famous buildings, as well as obtain practical tools such as point of choice signage, fact sheets, design considerations for making stairways inviting and safe and program management tools. Keep active living messages top of mind by posting messages near the elevators reminding employees to opt for the stairs instead.

Other tips for active living in the workplace include:

  • Create a new morning routine. Start your day with 10 minutes of movement indoors or outdoors. Some stretching and a short walk first thing in the morning can be better than caffeine!
  • If you must drive to work, park a reasonable distance from your work site so you can fit in a short walk.
  • If you are able to leave your workstation from time to time during the day, plan regular intervals incorporating physical activity from a walk to the water fountain to stretching while you photocopy documents.
  • If you can't leave your workstation, use official breaks to give your muscles some necessary stretching and relieve built-up tension.
  • Walk, jog, wheel or cycle during your lunch hour.
  • Have 'walking meetings' instead of sitting in the boardroom.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator wherever possible.
  • If your workplace offers sport activities or has a fitness or wellness program, sign up for an activity or try a class.
  • Organize an active social outing for your co-workers to enjoy and consider challenging other departments or companies to participate and match your numbers.
  • Use a pedometer to mark a set distance around your workplace, either indoors or out, and challenge your co-workers to completing a predetermined distance over several months (some offices have even used a map to track workers who are walking the equivalent of across Canada!).
  • Get off the bus two stops early and walk the rest of the way home.
  • Request shower and change rooms, along with secure bicycle parking to encourage employees to commute actively to and from work instead of driving.
  • If shower facilities and the like aren't possible, investigate an arrangement for group discounts at a nearby fitness or recreation facility that does have them.

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Are there any business advantages to having a physical active workforce?

Yes! Active living policies make good business sense, as research shows us that healthier employees result in:

  • lower health-care costs
  • lower turnover rates
  • reduced absenteeism
  • fewer medical claims
  • higher productivity
  • improved employee morale

Forty percent of workers say that one of the best ways their employers can help them improve their health is to provide recreational or exercise facilities at or near the workplace.

Providing a workplace supportive of physical activity can help recruit and retain employees, since workers report that physical activity is a way to reduce stress. Employees' stress-related disorders cost Canadian businesses an estimated $12 billion per year (Vanier Institute of the Family).

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What are some examples of Canadian businesses enjoying the benefits of an active workforce?

Canadian evidence suggests that businesses who support active living get a real return on investment. For example:

  • Canada Life in Toronto showed a return on investment of $6.85 on each corporate dollar invested on reduced turnover, productivity gains and decreased medical claims. Dr. Roy Shephard for the Canadian government found corporate wellness programs returned $1.95-$3.75 per employee per dollar spent.
  • Municipal employees in Toronto missed 3.35 fewer days in the first six months of their 'Metro Fit' fitness programs than employees not enrolled in the program. British Columbia Hydro employees enrolled in a work-sponsored fitness program had a turnover rate of just 3.5% compared with a company average of 10.3%.
  • The Canadian Life Assurance Company found that the turnover rate for fitness program participants was 32.4% lower than the average over a seven-year period. Toronto Life Assurance found that employee turnover for those enrolled in the company's fitness program was 1.5% versus 15% for non-participants.

For more examples of Canadian businesses who are enjoying the many benefits of active living at work, check out these Success Stories at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/pau-uap/fitness/work/case_studies_e.html

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Where can I get more information about being physically active at work?

First explore other sections of the website of the Canadian Council for Active Living at Work that you are currently viewing. This site features a variety of resources that can help about the many benefits of workplace health and wellness, as well as ways to become more active to, from or at work. If you haven't already done so, be sure to review the 'Check It Out'! sidebar on the homepage, as well as the Resources and Partners & Links section. [Tomahawk, please create hyperlink to the 3 sections on the CCHALW site underlined above]

Here are some other sources of information about active living in the workplace that you may find helpful:

  • Making It Work with Active Living in the Workplace
    Making It Work is a comprehensive 'how-to' manual with practical ideas and creative approaches to active living in the workplace - pick and choose the ones that best fit your organization! For more information click here.
  • Walk & Roll: A guide to active transportation to, from and at the workplace
    This is a total package for making the case for active living to, from and at work. Available through the offices of one of the Council's key partners, Go for Green!, this guide includes valuable information on addressing barriers to being active and how to develop and implement an effective active living at work plan.
  • Stairway to Health
    is an interactive, web-based resource for employers and employees to encourage stair use rather than the elevators as one cost-effective means to incorporate healthy physical activity into daily work life. The site features practical tools such as point of choice signage, fact sheets, design considerations for making stairways inviting and safe and program management tools.
  • The Business Case for Active Living at Work
    Launched in partnership with Health Canada in 2001, this unique Internet resource highlights research on the benefits of physical activity in and a convincing business case for implementing effective workplace health and wellness programs. This popular site received more than one million hits in its first year alone and is currently in the process of being entirely redesigned and updated for spring 2006.

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