How to Create a Healthier Workplace

  •   October 2, 2014
  •  Leanne Loranger, PT


Alberta workers spend more hours at work each week than any other group of Canadians at 2.4 hours more than the national average.1 In a 2013 Government of Alberta Recreation survey, Albertans reported (for the first time since the survey’s inception in 1981) that their greatest barrier to participating in new activities was that they are “too busy with other activities.”2 All that time spent busy with work and other activities of daily life cuts into the time available for physical activity, which can lead to a sedentary lifestyle. You can avoid this and the negative effects of inactivity by finding ways to be active at work.

"Employing staff means relying on human resources for productivity and profitability. This is just as true for a small workplace as it is for a big workplace. If we rely on people for the ongoing operation of our business, then we must also invest in keeping our people happy, motivated and healthy.”4

 

Physical Activity at Work

The benefits of employers promoting physical activity are significant: there is mounting evidence that active living not only decreases absenteeism and improves productivity, but also that these effects can be gained by adding short periods of activity to the work day,3 representing a minor investment of time and resources by employers.

Promoting activity at work does not require an onsite gym. Employers both large and small can benefit from active living activities such as:

  • Hosting walking meetings.
  • Encouraging active lunch and coffee breaks.
  • Allowing staff flex time so that they can fit exercise into their lunch routine and make up hours at the end of the day.
  • Installing standing, or if possible, treadmill desks so employees can continue to work while taking a break from sitting.


Get Moving!

Even with your desk space set up properly, your body wasn’t meant to spend eight hours sitting in one position.7  Some evidence suggests that sedentary jobs “may be hazardous, contributing substantially to the growing chronic disease burden associated with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.”9 Sedentary time has also been shown to negatively effect several indicators associated with diabetes and heart disease among those at risk for diabetes.8

Even employees who are physically active and meet the guidelines of 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, can have high levels of work-related sedentary time and in turn increasing their health risks.9 In fact, “on average, over 75% of the office workday is spent sitting, with much of this accumulated in unbroken bouts of at least 30 minutes, demonstrating that the hazard is much more common than previously thought."9

The good news is that small daily tasks can add up to increasing your physical activity at work and decreasing the strain and health risks related to prolonged sitting.

  • Get up to stretch, walk or change position every 30 minutes.
  • Think of ways to add activity at every opportunity such as taking the stairs, taking phone calls standing up, walking over and talking to a colleague rather than sending an email, or putting the printer/photocopier at the other end of the office to ensure you get up.
  • Make activity fun by starting challenges with other colleagues in your office. Try a stair challenge or use pedometers to measure steps and distance. Try uwalk.ca to organize the challenges and for information on how to borrow pedometers.
  • Start a Healthy Workplace Committee with like-minded colleagues to arrange challenges, fun runs, walking clubs and more.


Setting up Your Workspace

Remaining healthy at work isn’t only about building activity into your work day, it’s also about how you work, more specifically the design of your office space. A large proportion of workers spend prolonged periods of time at their desks working on computers,5 placing them at risk of repetitive strain injuries and neck and back pain. Simple changes to your workspace can help.

  1. Set your chair height so that your feet rest flat on the floor and your thighs are horizontal, parallel with the floor. 6,7
  2. Adjust your seat back so that there is a 2 to 3 finger wide gap from knees to the front edge of the seat and the back support rests in the small of your back.6,7
  3. Set your computer screen 18-30 inches from your eyes so that the centre of the screen is at or slightly below eye level. Make sure you sit with your chin slightly tucked and your jaw parallel with the floor.6,7
  4. When typing, make sure that your wrists are straight and your elbows are at a 90 degree angle.6,7
  5. Keep items you frequently use within easy arm’s reach.6,7
  6. Stability balls can be one way to ‘force yourself’ into sitting with good posture and using your abdominals. Just remember that when sitting on a stability ball you are using your core muscles all the time. You need to build up to sitting tolerance, adding a half hour to your time on the ball every few days and keeping an alternate chair available. When you become tired and start to slouch, it’s time to take a break from the ball.
  7. If your work has you spending long hours on the road instead of at a desk, several of the same principles apply. Make sure that your car seat is set up with the back support in the correct position, your head in a slightly tucked posture and plan frequent stops to get up and walking around your vehicle to prevent the negative effects of prolonged sitting.

 

If you find you are in pain after spending the day at your desk or in the driver’s seat, or if you are looking for help setting up your workspace, contact a physiotherapist.  Physiotherapists can also treat other work-related injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Click here to find a physiotherapist in your area.


References:

  1. Employment and Social Development Canada. Well-being in Canada: Work-Weekly hours worked. Government of Canada. 2014. Available at: http://www4.hrsdc.gc.ca/.3ndic.1t.4r@-eng.jsp?iid=19 Accessed on October 1, 2014.
  2. Alberta Government. 2013 Alberta Recreation Survey. 2014. Available at: http://www.tpr.alberta.ca/recreation/resources/research-analytics/recreation-survey/recreation-survey-results/pdf/AB-Rec-2013-ReportFinal.pdf Accessed on October 1, 2014.
  3. Lifestyle tips: Workplace physical activity. Got 10 minutes? ParticipACTION & The Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute.  Available at: http://cflri.ca/media/node/1115/files/FINAL_LT_April2013Shortbouts_eng.pdf Accessed on October 1, 2014.
  4. Government of Western Australia, Department of sport and recreation. A resource kit for physical activity and health in the workplace. 2007 Available at: http://www.dsr.wa.gov.au//assets/files/Healthy_Active%20Workplaces/Resource%20kit.pdf Accessed on October 1, 2014.
  5. Church TS, Thomas DM, Tudor-Locke C, Katzmarzyk PT, Earnest CP, Rodarte RQ, Martin CK, Blair SN, Bouchard. Trends over 5 decades in U.S. occupation-related physical activity and their associations with obesity. PLoS One 2011;6(5): 1-7. Available at: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0019657#pone-0019657-g004 Accessed on October 1, 2014.
  6. Workers’ Compensation Board Alberta. Office Ergonomics: Think detection. Think prevention. Think activity. 2007. Available at: file:///F:/CPTA%20Files/Temporary%20Folder/Loranger/Articles%20&%20Resources/WCB%20Office%20Ergonomics.pdf Accessed on October 1, 2014
  7. Work Safe BC. How to make your computer workstation fit you. Workers; Compensation Board of British Columbia, 2009.Available at: http://www.worksafebc.com/publications/health_and_safety/by_topic/assets/pdf/comptr_wrkstn.pdf?_ga=1.35648740.439808131.1409002849 Accessed on October 1, 2014.
  8. Henson J, Yates T, Biddle SJH, Edwardson CL, Khunti K, Wilmot EG, Gray LJ, Gorely T, Nimmo MA, Davies MJ. Associations of objectively measured sedentary behavior and physical activity with markers of cardiometabolic health. Diabetologia 2013; 56: 1012-1020.
  9. Straker L, Healy GN, Atherton R, Dunstan DW. Excessive occupational sitting is not a “safe system of work”: time for doctors to get chatting with patients. MJA 2014; 201(3): 138-140.