Researchers examine how employees can remain active even in workplace

Tsukuba: Sufficient physical activity is essential to staying healthy and maintaining one’s physical and mental wellbeing. But for office workers, with long hours of desk jobs, staying active is difficult. Now, researchers in Japan have shed light on how office workers can keep active throughout the working day.

In a recently published article in the ‘International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health’, a team of researchers from the University of Tsukuba investigated how office workers at an insurance company in Tokyo dealt with the challenge of staying physically active. Their study was based on two sets of focus group interviews with office workers and managers, respectively.

“The negative health effects of a sedentary lifestyle are being taken increasingly seriously in Japan as a public health issue,” noted Yoshio Nakata, one of the study’s authors. “Because office workers spend more than 70 per cent of their working hours sitting, they are at higher risk of developing conditions such as diabetes.”

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The interviews explored how office workers perceived the importance of physical activity and how they viewed the situation regarding physical activity in the workplace. They also invited suggestions for ways to increase their levels of physical activity.

“The importance workers place on physical activity results from factors related to the individual, the socio-cultural environment, the physical environment, and the organizational culture,” commented Associate Professor Nakata. “For example, factors related to the individual include their biological health and personality. Organizational factors include matters such as a company program to promote physical activity or a healthy work-life balance policy.”

The researchers looked at solutions in terms of capability, opportunity, and motivation. They found that office workers’ capability can be increased by evidence-based health education. They can be given the opportunity to engage in physical activity through changes to the physical environment, such as issuing standing desks or installing a shower room.

Strategies to improve motivation can include incentive programs to reward employees for increasing indicators of physical activity such as their daily step count. Such programs can be effective but are often expensive – lower-cost alternatives include posters to promote physical activity and encouraging messages from executives.

As worker health is positively related to worker productivity, further investigation of the strategies identified by the researchers to promote physical activity among office workers is warranted.

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