“If there is any deficiency in food or exercise, the body will fall sick.” That’s according to Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine. He made the claim 2,000 years ago, neatly demonstrating the idea that physical activity is good for you is nothing new.
Yet according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), physical inactivity has grown into the fourth largest killer in the world. Globally, there are around 3.2 million deaths each year attributed to lack of physical activity.
Living longer is of course not the only goal. Physical activity helps people to live healthier, happier lives by reducing the risk of lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and depression, as well as colon and breast cancer.
These conditions carry not only a cost to the individual and to their families but also have a significant economic impact. Poor physical health negatively affects workplace attendance and productivity, resulting in substantial cost to employers.
The price tag to the NHS and wider economy for managing physical inactivity-related conditions is said to be between £8billion and £20bn per year through both direct and indirect healthcare costs.
Consequently, the positive implications of regular exercise are just as universal: to the individual, to the workplace, to society as a whole.
Regular physical activity can help improve physical aspects such as weight control, muscle strength and bone density. It also helps achieve good blood sugar control in diabetic patients and lowers cholesterol, reducing the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Exercise has also been shown to improve sleep, contributing to overall health and mental wellbeing.
The WHO recommends adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week and this can be anything from walking the dog to playing with children.
However it does not all have to be in one go either. The time-poor might find it easier to fit in 15 sessions of physical activity that last 10 minutes each.
Adults spend around 60% of their waking hours in the workplace, which means companies can play a pivotal role in the promotion of physical activity to large groups with existing social networks.
Strategies to promote physical activity have the potential to be more sustainable at organisation level rather than individual level.
These strategies will vary according to the size of an organisation. They could include promoting active travel through financial incentives such as the UK’s cycle to work scheme or by workplace travel champion programmes that equip staff to encourage and inspire their colleagues to change the way they commute.
The strategies can be relatively inexpensive, such as the provision of information about local opportunities for physical activity outside the workplace. Organisations capable of greater investment could consider onsite facilities such as secure bicycle parking or a staff gym to create
further opportunities for exercise.
Dr Shirley Kong, clinical director onshore, Iqarus