The makeup of the American workday increasingly depends on sitting in front of a computer screen for hours on end. Meanwhile, jobs that once required physical activity are becoming far less common.
The sedentary routine of the modern workday can have dramatic consequences for personal health and can also have implications for a business’s bottom line. Studies have shown associations between prolonged sitting time and premature mortality, and chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, metabolic syndrome and obesity.
For businesses, these sorts of conditions can have a profound effect on employee productivity, absenteeism, health insurance premiums and retention rates.
Fortunately, there are some easy and cost-effective methods to change the workplace environment. In fact, happier, healthier and more productive employees can take less than 40 minutes per day.
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At Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, we have found there are two primary ways to encourage employee activity: competition between staff and open access to exercise. Last month, we introduced the StairWars program, which encouraged competition among departments to climb the most stairs within the eight-story hospital over three months. The benefits of running stair-laps is threefold: first, the stairwells already exist; second, it has helped build camaraderie among different departments; and third, 40 minutes can burn more than 400 calories. To date, we have 54 teams and 447 people participating.
Even if you don’t have a stairwell in your office, there are other ways to incorporate activity into the business day. For example, instead of having your next meeting inside the conference room, take the meeting outside for a few laps around the building. Not only will you get in more activity, but you’ll also get a dose of Vitamin D from exposure to more sunlight, which can prevent osteoporosis, heart disease, tuberculosis and seasonal flu.
Finally, consider setting aside at least two 20-minute breaks throughout the day, away from desks and computer screens. Walking 40 minutes helps alleviate symptoms of depression. It reduces your risk of Type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancer. It is beneficial for your bones, brain and heart.
Although it may seem counterintuitive to have employees taking breaks from work to exercise, the rewards will speak for themselves. A happy, healthy and productive workforce provides a clinically backed return on investment.