Working with staff to design a “menu” of ways to sit less and move more across the day could increase business productivity, says a Heart Foundation researcher.
Survey results released for Heart Week (Sunday 29 April to Sunday 6 May) showed only 45 per of Australians believe they do enough physical activity to be healthy.
A third of respondents listed “lack of time” as a barrier to being physically active.
University of Queensland Associate Professor Nicholas Gilson, whose research focuses on physical activity in workers with different occupations, said businesses that want to help staff be healthier could reap productivity gains too.
In office workers, pilot study findings, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, suggest a link between using activity-promoting desks (such as sit-stand or treadmill desks) and factors that influence productivity.
Participants did their normal work in a laboratory set up as a typical office. They spent time sitting; switched between sitting and standing; and switched between sitting and walking on a treadmill set up at workstations. They then performed an attention task while their brain activity was tracked by electroencephalography (EEG). Saliva samples were also taken at certain points to measure cortisol – a hormone released at times of stress.
More than half of participants performed better in the attention task after using the sit-stand desk, as did more than a third of sit-walk desk users. Cortisol levels were also positively impacted when participants used sit-stand and sit-walk desks.
“We’d now like to look more into how the mind and body work together in a larger study over time, to provide a more comprehensive assessment of sitting, standing and moving, and work productivity in actual office-based settings,” A/Prof Gilson said.
A/Professor Gilson has been involved as an investigator on a Heart Foundation Focus Grant looking at how businesses can be encouraged to reduce sitting time at work.
He has also partnered with Safe Work Australia and the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General, to consider how ‘sit less and move more’ strategies can benefit heart health and productivity in priority ‘blue-collar’ workers such as truck drivers. Trials of high-intensity interval training to improve cardio-vascular fitness, sleep quality, fatigue and driving performance are being planned.
But he emphasised there was no “one size fits all” solution.
“We recommend a comprehensive approach that targets the whole day, so both work and non-work time,” he said. “This might include active travel to and from work, stand-up or walking meetings in the office, or for time-poor workers, short bursts of exercise at the depot or factory.”
He continues: “In highly sedentary groups, it’s not just about replacing sitting with standing, but about providing a range of opportunities to sit, stand and move frequently and regularly throughout the day. Providing opportunities to exercise, and raise heart rate, even for a very short period of time, is also a priority for some high-risk groups who need to improve cardio-respiratory fitness. How these opportunities are best achieved will be different for different workplaces and occupational groups.
“To get real lasting change in behaviour, we know it’s important to target multiple layers of influence; so individual workers, but also the environments they work in, and very importantly, their organisation’s practices and work culture.”
Visit heartfoundation.org.au/heartweek or call the Heart Foundation Helpline on 13 11 12 for more advice on creating a more active workplace.