Active Living at Work

This archived article is from July 2001. Although every effort has been made to make sure the information presented is accurate, please note that it may contain information that is out-of-date.

The Canada Safety Council works with the Public Health Agency of Canada through the Canadian Council for Health and Active Living at Work (CCHALW) to bring active living programs into the workplace. CSC serves as secretariat for CCHALW.

A 2001 survey by the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute (CFLRI) found that 57 per cent of adults aged 18 and older are not active enough to achieve optimal health benefits.

That's not because they don't understand the importance of keeping fit. CFLRI reports that 85 per cent of Canadian value physical activity, 72 per cent hold positive beliefs about the outcome of physical activity, and most would like to become more physically active.

The biggest problem is finding time. Work, family responsibilities and other priorities interfere with the time a person might spend on physical activities.

Fifteen million Canadians spend one-half of their waking hours at work. Many sit at a desk or machine for most of the day, and many drive a vehicle on the job or to commute. Research shows that Canadians who are sedentary at work are also sedentary in their leisure time. It is vital, therefore, to find ways of increasing physical activity at and around work.

Benefits of Workplace Programs

There are strong reasons for integrating active living with work:

  • Companies who have introduced active living policies say they make good business sense.
  • Employers need to embrace due diligence in today's high-paced work world.
  • Access to physical activity in the workplace and cafeterias with healthy foods are working conditions that help attract the best and the brightest workforce.

Research suggests a link between active living/fitness and individual employee well-being. Healthier employees result in:

  • lower health-care costs;
  • lower turnover rates;
  • reduced absenteeism;
  • fewer medical claims;
  • higher productivity;
  • improved employee morale.

On the other hand, organizations that have physically inactive employees may have higher costs.

Fatigue, inattention, accidents and low productivity are more common among inactive employees. Fit employees miss fewer days of work, have fewer accidents, are less prone to the harmful effects of stress, and have higher job satisfaction than non-fit ones.

Stress is playing an increasingly important role in workplace illness and sick days. One of the ways organizations can help employees manage stress is to help them to be physically active in and around the workplace.

It's no secret that Canada's work force is aging — and doctors say that the best anti-aging "pill" is regular physical activity.

Employers Who Promote Fitness

A 1992 National Workplace Survey of 3,500 companies revealed that many employers encourage their workers to be active. Of companies with more than 100 employees, 39 per cent of had some form of fitness program and 73 per cent offered sport and recreation opportunities. Among small companies (less than 50 employees), 13 per cent had fitness programs and 42 per cent offered sport and recreation opportunities.

In 1998, The Public Health Agency of Canada surveyed 120 workplaces that encourage and support fitness or active living programs and policies in the workplace. The survey showed that more and more employers are realizing the importance of having a fitness and active living program. Only 16 per cent had a program prior to 1980; 45 per cent implemented between 1981-90, and 38.7 per cent between 1991-98.

More than 70 per cent offered a class in at least one of the following areas: low-impact aerobics, strength and conditioning, and/or step aerobics. Over half offered stretch and strengthen, walking, and yoga classes.

Group recreation programs such as baseball, softball and slow pitch were the most popular programs in most organizations. Other group programs included hockey, racquetball and walking clubs. Group events included golf tournaments, summer active events, family fun days and corporate walk days.

Seventy-two per cent had fitness facilities available to their employees; 35 per cent offered a subsidy to employees using an external facility; while 20 per cent of organizations offered employees subsidies for both internal and external facilities.

Most of these fitness-conscious organizations reported that active living programs are integrated with other health management programs such as education on nutrition and weight management, back/spinal health, stress management, health-risk screening and disease management.

New Resource

The Business Case for Active Living at Work, developed by CCHALW with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, was published on the Internet in April. The Web site identifies the benefits of being active in the workplace, summarizes the research, gives information about what works and how to get started, and provides a template for practitioners to develop a business case for active living in their own organizations.