Employee health and wellbeing – why walking works

A report by the charities The Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support has argued that the simple message of “more walking” is the answer to much of the life-threatening health consequences of inactivity.

The UK’s chief medical officers recommend 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week (or enough to make the heart beat faster while still being able to readily have a conversation), with walking, cycling and gardening all highlighted as good activities.

Physical inactivity

In this latest report, Walking Works, supported by Public Health England, the two charities have argued physical inactivity is as one of the nation’s biggest health problems and is one of the top four global killers.Occupational-Health-walking-sport-shoes

It is, they say, responsible for 10.5% of heart disease cases, 13% of type 2 diabetes cases and 17% of premature deaths in the UK. Moreover, being inactive can shorten lifespan by three to five years and costs the economy up to £10bn a year.

As Ciarán Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, puts it: “Inactivity is a nationwide epidemic that must be tackled now before it is too late. Healthcare professionals need to ensure that they prescribe physical activity, such as walking, as an intrinsic part of a healthy lifestyle.”

To which we might add: “so should employers”.

Individual responsibility

Obviously, this is at one level a question of individual responsibility; no one is going to be able to force people to get up, get out and get walking, and certainly it is not an employer’s responsibility to do so.

But the fact we spend so much of our daily lives at work, as well as getting to and from it, means our employment can, and should be, an important part of the health prevention and wellness mix.

Getting off a stop early on your commute and walking to work, taking the stairs instead of the lift, going out for a lunchtime “constitutional”, even getting up and speaking to people rather than just emailing them – employers have an important role to play in encouraging employees to walk around and be more active.

As well as unilaterally encouraging employees to walk more and be more active, employers can engage with national initiatives such as Walking for Health, run by Macmillan and the Ramblers, and which already supports some 600 local schemes across England.

More productiveOccupational-Health-walking-stairs

Health benefits aside, employers may also find if they can encourage people to take care of themselves, to take responsibility for their health, they can gain additional benefits.

Being able to offer employees practical ways and means and support to become healthier, such as cycle-to-work schemes, subsidised gym membership, healthier canteen options, active health promotional activity, organised events and so on, can be valuable to your employer brand, to show you care and are proactive as an employer.

And that’s even before we get on to the somewhat more intangible, but no less compelling, argument that healthier, more active employees tend to be more engaged and more productive at and during work.

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Posted in Occupational health by OH Assist on the 25th October 2013

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