The holiday season is behind us and many of us are back at work after a well-earned break. People spend a considerable amount of their time engaged with work and so now is a great time to reflect on our health and the wellbeing work offers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the change in the work environment for many employers, companies, employees and volunteers. Many people have adopted a hybrid model of work, alternating working between their pre-COVID workplace and ‘home office’.
Regardless of where you are, working in a healthy environment contributes to your overall wellbeing. In fact, long-term absence from work and unemployment can have a negative impact on a person’s health and wellbeing (1)
The Workforce is Ageing
Given the importance of work in our lives, it is in our best interest to remain as physically fit as possible so we can be productive as we age. Overall, the workforce is getting older because the world’s population is ageing, as witnessed in most countries including Australia and the USA. The United Nations (UN) estimates that by 2050, one in four people living in the developed world will be over 60 years. (2)
In Australia and many western countries, labour participation rates are falling, due to retiring workers. Public health care costs are escalating as a result of increasing life expectancy. To offset this dilemma, the pension age has increased, requiring older people to continue working beyond age 65. In Australia, this increase started several years ago, is currently 66 years and this will increase to 67 years by July 2023. (3) Physical fitness, therefore, is paramount to remaining productive in the workforce.
The Workforce is becoming increasingly sedentary
SafeWork NSW reported that Australian workers spend approximately 76% of their time at work sitting – about 5 hours per day. A quarter of the population report that they sit for more than 8 hours per day. (4) Sedentary behaviour, such as prolonged sitting, poses significant health risks. Some of these include increased risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers (5), type II diabetes and musculoskeletal disorders. When sitting for long periods, workers can also report feeling tired, less productive and unhealthy.
Many of our clients tell us that they are active outside of work, however, exercises performed outside of work does not negate the risk factors of prolonged sitting. (6) What does help, is changing our sitting behaviours. People who break up their sitting behaviour with frequent breaks have better health outcomes including a lower body mass index, lower blood pressure and improved blood glucose levels compared to those who sit for longer stints before breaking. (7)
Regular Exercise is Key to Working Well
Regular exercise is key to maintaining optimal health. It is foundational to older Australians who wish to maintain their quality of life, functional abilities and remain in the workforce. The benefits of exercise are tremendous. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend the following for older adults (8):
1. Older adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
2. Perform aerobic activity in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration.
3. For more health benefits, older adults should increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week.
4. Older adults, with poor mobility, should perform physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls on 3 or more days per week.
5. Engage in muscle-strengthening activities, involving major muscle groups, two or more days a week.
Additionally, building more activity into your workday can make a big difference to improving your health. (4) Try these tips while you’re at work:
- Walking to deliver a message to colleagues rather than emailing
- Stand to read documents
- Use the stairs instead of the lift
- Exercise in your lunch break
- For short trips, walk or cycle and leave the car at home
- Stand on public transport and get off one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way
- Park further away from your destination and walk
3. Age Pension https://www.dss.gov.au/seniors/benefits-payments/age-pension
4. Sedentary work https://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/hazards-a-z/sedentary-work
6. Too Much Sitting: The Population-Health Science of Sedentary Behavior https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404815/
7. Does breaking up prolonged sitting improve cognitive functions in sedentary adults? A mapping review and hypothesis formulation on the potential physiological mechanisms https://bmcmusculoskeletdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12891-021-04136-5
8. Who Guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/337001/9789240014886-eng.pdf
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