Monday, October 2, 2017

Physical Inactivity – The Hidden Disease State

Diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol – these lifestyle diseases are often the common targets of corporate wellness programs, because eliminating them can help lower healthcare expenses and improve workplace health.

But one very significant lifestyle state is often skipped over in that list - physical inactivity.

A newly released employer guide, Physical Activity in the Workplace, prepared by The Institute for Health and Productivity Studies, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, sheds light on the importance of targeting inactivity.

Physical inactivity was responsible for 11.1% of healthcare expenditures between 2006-2011.

The employer guide also emphasized the fact that increasing employees’ physical activity can create significant improvements to the workplace.

These benefits included:

  • An average of 4.1 fewer missed days of work per year
  • Lower healthcare costs
  • Decreased risk of developing costly and debilitating chronic diseases
  • Decreased worker’s compensation claims
  • Increase productivity and focus

Another benefit of adding physical inactivity as an area of focus is the fact that getting your population more active can have a positive ripple effect on the other disease states.

The evidence is powerful for increasing physical activity and the impact that has on diabetes, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Compare this to simply making sure someone with hypertension is compliant with their medications. One disease state is impacted, versus many with a good physical activity program.

It also doesn’t take many individuals to have this impact. The CDC guide shows that after introducing a wellness program 2011, O’Neal Industries found in an analysis in 2014 that 400 of their 3000 employees had initiated or improved their exercise levels, contributing to an overall net cost savings of $556,100. That is huge savings coming from moving about 13% of their population.

There is a large area of opportunity for improvement for employers when it comes to physical inactivity considering that 80% of American adults do not meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity and 45% of Americans are not active enough to achieve any sufficient health benefits. 

Employers can help to change these statistics for their employee population. Below are just a few ideas to increase physical activity in the workplace.

  • Encourage walking meetings
  • Put signage by the elevator to encourage stair use (check out our 3 free posters here)
  • Leverage the power of wearables to drive high engagement, the daily touch, and verifiable data (Learn more about driving engagement with wearables with our ebook)
  • Encourage participation in a local 5K run or walk
  • Encourage and allocate time during the work day for an exercise break
  • Arrange a company picnic or outing that involves some type of physical activity 
  • Offer secure bicycle storage for employees who bike to work
  • Implement 5-minute stretch breaks every hour throughout the day
  • Add standing or walking work stations as options throughout the workplace. 

Though often not considered a disease, the bottom-line is that physical inactivity in a population can lead to multiple lifestyle diseases and problems in the workplace including: missed days of work and decreased productivity. 

On the positive side, there is a lot of room for improvement and this is an area where employers can offer the right programs, policies, and environment to have a positive impact.