Sufficient physical activity is essential for staying healthy and maintaining physical and mental well-being. But for office workers, with long hours of desk jobs, it’s hard to stay active. Now, researchers in Japan have shed light on how office workers can stay active throughout the workday. In a recently published article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a team of researchers from the University of Tsukuba examined how office workers at an insurance company in Tokyo coped with the challenge of staying physically active.
Their research was based on two sets of focus group interviews with office workers and managers, respectively. “The negative health effects of a sedentary lifestyle are increasingly being taken seriously in Japan as a public health problem,” said Yoshio Nakata, one of the study’s authors. “Because office workers spend more than 70 percent of their working hours sitting, they are at greater risk of developing conditions such as diabetes.”
The interviews examined how office workers see the importance of physical activity and how they view the situation regarding physical activity in the workplace. They also asked for suggestions for ways to increase their physical activity. “The importance that employees place on physical activity stems from factors related to the individual, the socio-cultural environment, the physical environment and the organizational culture,” said associate professor Nakata. “For example, factors related to the individual include their biological health and personality. Organizational factors include a company program to promote physical activity or a healthy work-life balance policy.”
The researchers looked at solutions in terms of ability, opportunity and motivation. They found that the ability of office workers can be increased through evidence-based health education. By making adjustments to the physical environment, such as issuing standing desks or installing a shower room, they can be given the opportunity to exercise. Strategies to improve motivation may 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 – cheaper alternatives include posters to promote physical activity and messages of encouragement from executives. Since employee health is positively related to employee productivity, further investigation into the strategies identified by the researchers to promote physical activity in office workers is warranted.
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