The Impact of Physical Inactivity at Work

06-10-2021

Posted By: Dr. Patrick Blaise Collins, PhD, ACSM-EP-C

The Impact of Physical Inactivity at Work

The Impact of Physical Inactivity at Work

By Dr. Patrick Blaise Collins, PhD, ACSM-EP-C, Guest Contributor

 

Since the lockdown in early 2020 due to the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic, much focus has been placed on work-from-home (WFH) positions. According to Forbes, roughly 70% of full-time employees transitioned to the WFH environment during the lockdown.1 With the advent in increased WFH employees, “new” concerns of both mental and physical health have arisen. While back and neck pain may account for the most noticeable health issues, with 41.2% reporting low back pain and 23.5% reporting neck pain, there also exists the threat of cardiovascular issues from the extended periods of sitting.2

Fortunately, long bouts of sitting at work are not new and there is no shortage of research on the detrimental effects of sitting for long periods.  Envision2bWell recently published an article on ergogenic tips for sedentary occupations during the pandemic, but research into the topic of physical inactivity has been conducted for at least the past decade.3 In 2008, Troiano and colleagues presented data demonstrating that less than 5% of Americans meet the minimum physical activity guidelines based on accelerometer data, much lower than the ~50% individuals meeting the minimum in self-report questionnaires.4,5,6 With further research demonstrating a broad spectrum of individuals not engaging in physical activity, it is of no surprise that sedentary occupations coupled with a common habit of not engaging in regular activity have added to the obesity pandemic.6,7

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends implementation of worksite physical activity.8 Per the CDC, implementation of physical activity programs in the workplace lead to myriad health benefits (eg, lowered risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression) which then result in lower insurance costs for the employer and employee, fewer sick days, greater team cohesion, and many other positive outcomes. When we consider the majority of people spend 8 hours a day at their occupation and may not be able to devote time to training, either due to familial constraints or other engagements, a workplace-sponsored physical activity program or an added focus on activity may be the only opportunity many get.

In a systematic literature review by Hadgraft and colleagues, 32 studies were identified which demonstrated commonly reported barriers to workplace activity as being social environment and job-related demands.9 The authors also found support from co-workers and managers to be a key facilitator in reducing sitting, which further strengthens the recommendations of the CDC.8,9

Prior to the pandemic, sedentary occupations were already prevalent. Due to the pandemic and concomitant increase in work-from-home positions, it would not be surprising to see a spike in reported physical inactivity. On the bright side, working from home also brings with it the ability to be active. Furthermore, implementation of active habits at work helps to reduce not only on the lockdown-related detriments to health (eg, mental health, loneliness), but also on preventing COVID-19-related illness.10,11,12

Recommendations on Enhancing Fitness While at Work

There are many methods one could adopt to increase their physical fitness, even at work, regardless of whether it’s WFH or in-office. Some have been covered previously by Envision2bWell, some are my own professional prescription:

Physical wellness programs

- Involving colleagues and supervisors aids in reducing the social stigma that may be present in some occupations and also creates a support system for accountability

Ergonomics

- Sitting with hips and knees at 90o angles, computer screen at arms’ reach and raised to eye level to avoid slouching or straining neck

- Standing desks have been shown to be beneficial in reducing sedentary habits at work and promoting cardiovascular function13

Walking

- In the in-office setting, getting up to collaborate with co-workers is a great opportunity to get up and move

- In the WFH setting, setting a timer for every hour to get up and walk or do other exercise (see below) is a great method for not only breaking up the day but also improving fitness and reducing the risk posed by sitting for long periods

Body Weight Exercise

-Exercise such as squats, jumping jacks, pushups, and many others improve cardiovascular function and muscular strength with no added cost to the individual

Weights (or equivalents)

- Using dumbbells to work the shoulders and arms can help reduce the physical stress of sitting and exercise bands can be used to strengthen and stretch muscles

Physical Gaming

- “Exergaming”, or active video gaming, can be used to cover any video gaming setup that involves physical movement and promote physical health14

- “Wiihab”, the use of the Nintendo Wii for rehabilitation, has been used in rehabilitation in elderly populations and cardiac rehab centers and provides a fun opportunity for exercise during the workday

- Virtual Reality (VR) headsets not only allow one to escape their day for a few minutes, but also provide a fun exercise experience. VR has been used in neurorehabilitation, postural control, weight loss, and others

- Note: VR gaming could be uncomfortable for individuals prone to motion sickness or who experience seizures in response to flashing lights

Take Home Message

In closing, occupational physical inactivity can be detrimental to individual health. It can lead to development of depression, cardiovascular issues, physical pain, and a lack of focus. In the absence of an occupation-sponsored wellness program, there are still options to improve physical health while at work without neglecting the job-related demands. Even just five minutes of activity every 60 to 90 minutes can help reduce the burden of long-term sitting, reduce healthcare costs and time off, and increase occupational productivity.

 

 

Blaise Collins, PhD, ACSM-EP-C   

Medical Writer, Medical + Scientific Strategy

After studying exercise physiology in college and growing an exercise physiology venture for teaching others about proper exercise and nutrition, Blaise discovered a passion for unraveling the mysteries surrounding inflammation and microbiology. After completing a post-doc in regenerative medicine (and inventing the first-of-its-kind swine model tourniquet), Blaise did a short stint teaching Anatomy & Physiology to nursing students. Once the SARS-CoV-2 virus locked down in-person careers, he got creative and completed six months as a Medical Science Liaison intern. His love of microbiology, developing and giving presentations, writing, and science communication led to a natural fit as a medical writer. 

Blaise is approaching the end of his first year as a Medical Writer, working in tumor types including glioblastoma and non-small cell lung cancer, performing landscape analyses and literature reviews, and always succeeding at getting others on the team (and clients) to laugh.  

Blaise’s interests outside of oncology and hematology include learning/implementing/teaching new knowledge about additive printing (3D printing), guitar, writing short communications about exercise physiology and nutrition, trying to grow hotter habaneros every year, and spending time with his family. When weather permits, he also enjoys hiking, long walks on the beach, and any excuse to be outside. 

You can find Blaise Collins on LinkedIn here

 

References

  1. The benefits and challenges of employee remote work. Published 04 March 2021. Accessed 28 September 2021. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2021/03/04/the-benefits-and-challenges-of-employee-remote-work/?sh=df049af4da96
  2. Moretti A, et al. Characterization of home working population during COVID-19 emergency: A cross-sectional analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(17):6284.
  3. Barday L. Workplace Ergonomics. Envision2bWell. Published 10 March 2021. Accessed 29 September 2021. Retrieved from https://blog.envision2bwell.io/post/1102/workplace-ergonomics
  4. Troiano RP, et al. Physical activity in the United States measured by accelerometer. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2008;40(1):181-188
  5. Paul P. Analysis of data from the 2013 National Health Interview Survey. Accessed May 25, 2015
  6. Singh R, et al. US physical activity guidelines: current state, impact, and future directions. Trends Cardiovasc Med, 2020;30(7):407-412
  7. Kohl HW, et al. The pandemic of physical inactivity: global action for public health. Lancet, 2012;380:294-305
  8. Centers for Disease Control. Worksite Physical Activity. Updated 21 March 2021. Accessed 29 September 2021. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/worksite-pa/index.htm
  9. Hadgraft NT, et al. Perceptions of the acceptability and feasibility of reducing occupational sitting: review and thematic synthesis. Int J Behav Nut Phys Act, 2018;90:15
  10. Juzeki E, et al. Physical activity during COVID-19 induced lockdown: recommendations. J Occup Med Toxicol, 2020;15:25.
  11. Silveira MP, et al. Physical exercise as a tool to help the immune system against COVID-19: an integrative review of the current literature. Clin Exp Med, 2020:1-14.
  12. Amatriain-Fernandez S, et al. Benefits of physical activity and physical exercise in the time of pandemic. Psychol Trauma, 2020;12(suppl 1):S264-S266.
  13. Kirschner M, et al. A qualitative study of the feasibility and acceptability of implementing ‘sit-to-stand’ desks in vocational education and training. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2021;18(3):849
  14. Benzing V, Schmidt M. Exergaming for children and adolescents: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. J Clin Med, 2018;7(11):422

 

 

 

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