Physical Activity

Being physically active can reduce one's risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Big health benefits seem to happen when people go from being totally inactive to adding some moderate activity. The current physical activity recommendation from the US Surgeon General is 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5, but preferably all, days of the week. The physical activity does not have to be done all at once. It can be done in 10 minute segments. Moderate physical activity includes:

  • Brisk walking (3-4.5 mph)
  • Bicycling - on level terrain
  • Swimming - recreational (doesn't have to be laps)
  • Dancing - anything but slow
  • Coaching a sport

Worksites can help people reach their physical activity goals by making some simple changes. The following activities can increase opportunities for employees to be moderately active during the work day.

I. Flexible Time Policy

Develop a policy on flexible time. Allow employees flexibility in their schedules, e.g., arrive and leave 1/2 hour later, or arrive 1/2 hour early and take an hour lunch (if lunch is usually 1/2 hour). This enables employees to fit physical activity into their work schedules (before, during or after work).

  • Review existing policies and employee interest in working flexible schedules.
  • Draft a flexible time policy.
  • Approve and enact policy.
  • Promote existence of policy to managers and all employees.

II. Walking Clubs

Develop walking clubs/programs. People are more motivated to walk regularly if there is someone or a group to walk with. Positive peer pressure keeps people coming back. If conditions around your worksite are not safe for walking, work with your municipality to make improvements.

  • Hold planning meeting with the wellness committee or other interested employees/management.
  • Decide on a theme (e.g., walk and talk, walk for life, walk for the health of it).
  • Develop/adapt materials for individual record keeping for club members.
  • Recruit team leaders.
  • Publicize that it will be starting.
  • Buy incentives for participants and advertise the incentives as part of the promotion.
  • Plan a kick-off event. Have people sign up before and/or at the kick-off event.
  • Hold kick off – have team leaders lead walks on routes near the worksite.
  • Use e-mail for motivational messages or hang posters around the site as reminders to walk/be part of the walking program.

III. Walking Paths/Routes

Mark walking paths inside and/or outside of the workplace. Many people like to know how far they walk. Maps can be pocketsize for easy use and/or large and posted on or near the path/route for easy visibility and promotion.

  • Hire someone who can develop maps.
  • Discuss possible routes and test them (maybe develop themes, e.g., Garden Walk, Architecture Stroll).
  • Print maps, include distances, and possible range of time it would take to walk route.
  • Recruit walk leaders.
  • Hold kick-off event and walk routes.
  • Schedule walking leaders to walk the routes at lunch time.
  • Send reminder notices of the trails on e-mail, in newsletters and on bulletin boards.

IV. Bike Racks

Install bike racks in a safe place. Some people, who would choose to bike to work, don't because there is no safe place for the bikes to be stored.

  • Check with building administration about feasibility of installing racks.
  • Survey employees for need/desire.
  • Purchase and install racks.
  • Publicize racks.
  • Hold kick-off day – ride your bike to work day.
  • Do follow-up reminders that the racks are there.
  • Maintain racks.

Learn more about promoting biking

V. Stair Climbing

Hold a stair climbing competition. People can climb a famous mountain (e.g., Everest, McKinley), or famous tall building, (e.g., Empire State Building). Signage and reminder notes help encourage the behavior. Putting interesting posters or artwork in the stairs also helps. Make stairwells safer, cleaner, well-lit, and accessible to encourage use.

  • Try to improve stairwell appeal (if they seem unsafe and/or very dirty people are less likely to want to use them).
  • Address safety and cleanliness issues with building security and janitorial services.
  • Put signs by the elevators that encourage stair use (e.g., Be an Elevoider and take the stairs! Take the stairs – the original stair master!).
  • Promote stair climbing through e-mail and posters on bulletin boards.

Learn more about stair climbing promotions

VI. Physical Activity Promotions

Conduct a physical activity promotion to encourage employees to set goals for physical activity. There are several existing promotions that can be conducted at a very low cost (e.g., America on the Move, or President's Challenge). Most campaigns last about 6 – 8 weeks, and have participants set personal physical activity goals, e.g., be active for 30 minutes a day, increase steps walked per day by 2,000. The promotions are designed to get people to start and maintain a physical activity habit.

  • Select a program to promote (e.g., America on the Move) and obtain materials
  • Select start date and length of program. Spring is a good time to hold a physical activity promotion.
  • Decide on awards (if any) for participation (e.g., pedometers, reflective vests)
  • Begin promoting program through several avenues, e.g., e-mail, bulletin boards, paycheck stuffers
  • Sign employees up for the program.
  • Run the program. Send reminders and motivational messages about the program during the course of the program.

Learn more about physical activity promotions.

VII. On-Site Physical Activity Classes

Start physical activity classes on-site. Aerobics, stretching and Tai Chi classes can be held on site during work hours (at lunch, before work or after work) to help people be active. This could be as simple as opening up a conference room during lunch and letting employees use the TV/VCR to run a workout tape. Or it could be as intensive as hiring an instructor to come in and conduct the classes. If an outside instructor is hired, class participants could be asked to pay for the instructor's time.

  • Assess employees' interest in physical activity classes, type, time and duration.
  • Decide on time, place and types of activities, based on employee interests.
  • Establish schedule of activities.
  • Promote availability of activities.
  • Monitor use and adjust schedule or activities as necessary.

VIII. Fitting Physical Activity In

It's easier for people to be physically active at work, especially if their jobs are normally very sedentary (e.g., computer work and meetings), if there are built in times for activity. For example, meetings longer than one hour could include a 5 – 10 minute stretch break. Computers could have programs that once every couple of hours send a stretch reminder, e.g., it's time to get up and move, or gives specific stretches for the neck, back, etc. If just two or three people need to meet, they can walk and talk, then take notes when they get back to their desks.

IX. Community Walks and Runs

Encourage participation in community walks and runs (e.g., American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, fun runs). Many cities have walks and runs to raise money for a variety of causes. A coordinator from the worksite can be appointed to organize teams for these events.

  • Get a list of local walks and runs (local runners' clubs are a good source).
  • Publicize the walks/runs.
  • Organize teams from the worksite to participate.
  • Offer training opportunities to prepare for the event.

X. Intramural Sports Teams

Sponsor intramural sports teams at the worksite (e.g., softball, volleyball, bowling).

  • Identify community resources/services/programs that you can collaborate with (e.g., YMCA, schools, health clubs, golf courses, parks, on-site spaces, police departments). Parks and Recreation departments are often involved with intramural sports and are a good place to start.
  • Survey employees about sport preferences.
  • Organize interested employees into teams (or if there is not sufficient interest for a whole team, direct individuals to existing programs). The teams could compete against other teams from the worksite or could participate in an existing league.