New research says sedentary workers risk chronic illness — Use this powerful data

Exercise can improve a worker's health and productivity. That's a no-brainer, right? The vast majority of employees and managers at your workplace probably take that statement as a given. But new data show that lack of exercise can actually cause chronic, costly, and debilitating diseases.1

Researchers asked participants in one group to reduce the number of steps they took per day from 6,000 to 1,400 for three weeks. Another more active group decreased their steps from 10,000 to 1,400 for two weeks. At the end of the study, participants had much higher levels of glucose and fat, and they took much longer to clear these substances from their bloodstream, which put them at greater risk for diabetes and other chronic diseases.

"We thought that not exercising just wasn't healthy, but we didn't think that a lack of activity could cause disease. That assumption was wrong," says Frank Booth, PhD, one of the study's authors and a professor of biomedical sciences in the University of Missouri in Columbia. "Reducing ambulatory activity by sitting around for one or two weeks, instead of walking, is detrimental to long-term health."

Data back your efforts

So how can you use this powerful new data as leverage for employee wellness programs?

The new research is very relevant, says Karen Griffith, global health, well-being, and productivity senior program manager at Chandler, AZ-based Intel Corp. "It is another tool that OHNs can cite, to help management and employees understand the importance of healthy lifestyles and prevention programs," Griffith says.

Don R. Powell, PhD, president and CEO of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, a wellness program provider based in Farmington Hills, MI, says, "Given that OHNs [occupational health nurses] are, in many cases, the only employee in the company involved in health and wellness, you need to take this information and use it to justify programs."

Getting employees active is not as easy as simply telling them to start walking 30 minutes a day. "It's much more than that; it's about behavior change and getting people ready to change," says Nicolette Shriver, health coach supervisor for Eden Prairie, MN-based Cigna. "If a lack of physical activity can actually make you sick, that's all the more reason for employers to start workplace wellness programs focused on increasing physical activity."

You should use the study's findings "to back the continuing effort to encourage an increase in daily activity for employees," advises Pamela Dugger, RN, employee health nurse for the City of Dalton, GA. "Some people, when told of the results, would increase activity in an effort to decrease their disease risk," she says.

Currently, City of Dalton employees are offered discounted rates to a local wellness center. "At this time we do not have any plans for new programs, but we are always looking for new and inventive ways to encourage our workers to lead a healthy, active life," says Dugger.

Reference

1. Olsen RH, Thomsen C, Booth FW. Metabolic responses to reduced daily steps in healthy nonexercising men. JAMA 2008; 299:1,261-1263.

SOURCES

For more information on increasing physical activity of employees, contact:

  • Pamela Dugger, RN, Employee Health Nurse, City of Dalton, GA. Phone: (706) 529-2425. Fax: (706) 529-2492. E-mail: PDugger@cityofdalton-ga.gov.
  • Karen Griffith, Global Health, Well-being and Productivity Senior Program Manager, Intel Corp., Chandler, AZ. Phone: (480) 715-8691. E-mail: karen.g.griffith@intel.com.
  • Jan Park, RN, Wellness Program Coordinator, City of Charleston, SC. Phone: (843) 958-6412. E-mail: ParkJ@ci.charleston.sc.us.
  • Don R. Powell, PhD, President and CEO, American Institute for Preventive Medicine, Farmington Hills, MI. Phone: (248) 539-1800 Ext. 221. Fax: (248) 539-1808. E-mail: dpowell@healthylife.com. Web: www.healthylife.com.