Create a Physically Healthy Workforce through Design

Sunday, July 12th, 2015
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Sedentary lifestyles are much to blame for the mass obesity crisis affecting the population. By redesigning the typical workplace, workers can stay physically healthy and be more productive.

By tweaking office designs, workers can be encouraged to exercise while at work without even realising it.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of Australians find themselves hunched over a computer eight hours a day which can deteriorate physical health, rather than in an active job with constant movement.

Monash University recently released figures stating that 14 million out of 23 million Australians are overweight or obese.

A recent study followed 17,000 Canadians for 12 years and showed that independent of exercise and fitness levels, people who sat more had a higher death risk. Further, a shocking survey out of the United States in 2004 showed that Americans are sitting for over half of the time they’re awake.

In addition to increasing general health, exercise increases productivity, which should be an additional incentive to redesign workplaces to make them more exercise-supportive. Many of the infrastructure changes needed in offices cost very little compared to the cost associated with lost productivity.

exercise ball desk chair

Exercise ball desk chair

Presenteeism is a term used to describe when workers are physically at work, but are not functioning to full capacity due to illness or injury. The losses associated with presenteeism are higher than that from absenteeism – nearly $26 billion per year in Australia.

David Teten, a partner with ff Venture Capital in New York, says offices can be designed to make working a partial workout.

If owners or managers were to remove the environmental barrier of an office that does not foster physical exercise, most workers would willingly integrate physical activity into their work days.

Exercise and Sport Science Australia says organisations should play a direct role in addressing environmental barriers and provide the infrastructure to support physical activity at work.

This can be done in several ways. First, the workplace should encourage physical exercise to get to work, and provide the infrastructure to allow workers to do this rather than drive. This includes a safe bicycle storage and change rooms with shower facilities. Once at the office, workers should be encouraged to take the stairs rather than the elevator whenever possible.

It is better for workers in an office environment to stand rather than sit. Companies should have flexible desk arrangements and standing workstations. People should be allowed to move freely from sitting to standing as they see fit.

office exercise

Office exercise

Many workplaces offer exercise balls as a replacement for the traditional office chair. Though not practical for eight hours a day, these can be greatly beneficial for short periods of time. Short meetings could be held around a table with exercise balls as the only option for those who choose to sit.

Even better than meetings that use exercise balls, research shows that standing meetings are much faster than sitting meetings, and better for workers’ health.

If the workplace does not have a designated gym, designate an unused board room for impromptu exercise usage. Include mats, balls, weights and a few exercise machines for workers to use when they’ve been sitting too long or feel stressed.

Every office should maintain an easily accessible landscaped outdoor area for use during lunch and coffee breaks. Introducing outdoor exercise equipment into an outdoor common area can increase sporadic exercise and increase worker productivity when they return to the office.

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