Physical Activity at Work

Employees need to move more

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults recommend that Canadian adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity per week, in bouts of ten minutes or more.

Being active for 30 minutes at a moderate intensity on most days of the week is associated with a 30 per cent reduction in the risk for:

  • Premature death
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Colon cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes

Research shows that sitting at work (at a desk, in meetings and even while commuting to and from work) accounts for one-half to one-third of total sitting time.

It's good for business

Promoting physical activity and supporting employees to move more and move often is not just good for them, it is good for business. When employees are physically active, it can result in:

  • Improved morale and job satisfaction
  • Improved tolerance to stress
  • Improved productivity
  • Decreased absenteeism
  • Decreased health benefit costs, especially related to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer
  • Decreased workplace injuries
  • Improved recruitment and retention

Employees have reported that sitting for long periods of time results in feeling mentally and physically exhausted, sluggish, stressed, depressed, socially isolated and trapped. These feelings contribute to a loss of productivity, poor performance on the job and disengagement with everyday tasks.

How to support employees

To have the greatest impact on the wellness of your employees and company, you will need to consider the following health promotion approaches in your planning.

Awareness raising 

Awareness-raising activities can teach employees about the benefits of making healthy choices through:

  • Bulletin boards and posters
  • Displays and health fairs
  • Emails, newsletters and other employee communications
  • Health screening and risk assessments
  • Promotion of local walking opportunities
  • Lunch and learns
  • Pamphlets and brochures
  • Mobile health technology / apps
  • Point of decision information 
Building skills 

Skills-building activities help employees learn to develop skills for healthy choices through:

  • Challenges and contests
  • Exercise breaks
  • Goal-setting and activity plans
  • Health fairs
  • Health screening and health risk assessments
  • Lunch and learns
  • Self-monitoring tools
  • Mobile health technology
  • Walking programs

Some of these activities have a hands-on learning component.

Creating a supportive environment 

Supportive environments strengthen and improve employees' healthy practices and make it easier for employees to make healthy choices through:

  • Adequate facilities (for example, change rooms, lockers, showers, fitness areas, mapped walking routes, space planning, accessible stairwells, etc.)
  • Meetings, workshops and events
  • Organizational culture (for example, supportive management practices; recognizing and rewarding employees)
  • Social support (for example, walking and running groups)
Policy development 

Policies improve and sustain healthy practices by explaining roles and expectations between employers and employees. They show the value a business places on the health and well-being of its employees.

For example, workplace walking policies can:

  • Formally recognize and allow participation in walking programs
  • Support active transportation activities
  • Provide instruction and information on environmental supports
  • Create a culture for walking during the workday

Additional Resources

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