Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Getting Fit at Work?

I came across this new report from NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) via the HSE website. It is actually called “Promoting Physical Activity in the Workplace”.

It’s a worthy attempt to persuade employers to encourage workers to get physically fit. I will declare an interest. By co-incidence this morning I launched yet another fitness campaign with a run around Victoria Park before starting work. We are lucky to have access to a shower and I followed this up with a serving of Dorset Cereals (a nuts based muesli – quite nice) served with skimmed milk (Yuk).

The report states that “physical inactivity” in England alone costs £8.2 billion per year. This includes the cost of treatment and sickness absence. "Physical activity not only contributes to both physical and mental well being, it is essential for good health. It can help to prevent or manage conditions and diseases including coronary heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Obesity can be caused, in part, by too little physical activity - dealing with the consequences of this condition costs a further estimated £2.5 billion each year.

There are no really radical proposals. The report recommends that companies should consult with employees (and their trade union reps!) and draw up a plan or policy, introduce this plan and monitor it. Encourage employees to walk or cycle into work and be active during the day.

Some may say this is another example of the “Nanny State” or that it would end up with all employees being forced to take part in Company PT before a shift as they are supposed to do in certain Japanese car factories.

I think what is interesting is that to get fit and healthy, professionals have been saying years that you have to have a lifestyle change not just a change in diet or going occasionally to the gym. If as the report suggested 60% of waking hours is spent at work, then trying to build in exercise and activity while at work could encourage a sustainable lifestyle change.

The report thinks there is a business case for employers to spend time and money on this initiative. Active employees are less likely to have major health problems, take less sick leave and even have fewer accidents(?)

Surely this is a trade union issue? If the report is right then this inactivity costs lives and makes lives miserable. But, ill-health and sickness is also down to other factors such as poverty, education and access to medical services.

It use to be the case that many employers would sponsor annual works "Sports Days". Also, many professional football and ruby teams were originally set up by factory workers. Local team West Ham FC is known as the "The Irons" and the "Hammers" because it's original name was Thames Ironworks FC. The team received support from management in order to help get over the bitterness of a recent strike!

Of course a company just provides a shower and somewhere to chain up your bike, but still treats employees badly in other ways then I do not think that there will be any improvement.

However at the moment “65% of men and 76% of women in England do not achieve the recommended level of activity for health (to accumulate at least 30 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity on five or more days of the week). Moderate physical activity is equivalent to brisk walking (approx 5kph)". This is something that government, NHS, employers and trade unions should be tackling.

I’ll let people know how I get on with my "campaign".


Anonymous said...

I think that you can get fit just about anywhere! But since we spend most of our time at work, it is probably a good idea. The important thing is to keep moving, whether it's walking up the stairs instead of using the elevator or walking to work. :)

Robert said...

How about if you have no legs.

leftygirl said...

Could the more kind hearted amongst us see the frequent calls for demonstrations as a way of getting us walking more?! Seriously, improving our health has to be a key trade union issue as more of us spend more time at work - but if I can put this politely, trade union activists don't often come across as the healthiest sample of the population..... So well done John for setting an example - sorry to hear about your bike.

PS - Robert, years ago I used to do fencing at a mixed disabled/non disabled group and it was great exercise. But obviously rubbish for the workplace unless you have a really unpleasant boss

John Gray said...

Hi leftygirl
I am sure that United left in London UNISON only call for demo’s left, right and centre because they are concerned to improve the physical health of our members. There cannot be any other practical reason surely? While all exercise is good, the day I go on any march that actually goes along at a “brisk walking pace for at least 30 minutes.....”

The very traditional post demo analysis at the pub is also unlikely to improve fitness but it is normally the highlight of any march!

I think that trade union activists are actually representative of working class Britain and yes, we don’t lead a good example (myself included).

Despite having my bike nicked last night I decided to run (ok – jog/walk very slowly) into work and back (45 and 55 minutes!).

PS - I have asked “Robert” to contact me on a number of occasions because some of the things he has said about his experiences as a disabled person are clearly discriminative and actionable. However, he has consistently refused to contact me even on a P&C basis so I am forced to conclude he is not what he says he is.