The recommended guidelines for physical activity have been widely communicated for many years. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Heart Association (AHA) both recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise per week to stay healthy.
Studies show, however, that adherence remains poor. For example, a study on European adults found that approximately 40 per cent do not meet today’s guidelines. The results are even worse in North America, with the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity finding eight out of 10 US adults fail to meet these physical activity guidelines.
Physical inactivity is driving up global healthcare costs with more medical claims, increased absenteeism, and decreased workplace productivity. Physical inactivity is responsible for one in six UK deaths (equal to smoking) and is estimated to cost the UK £7.4 billion annually. A report in the Financial Times estimated that an inactive employee lost, on average, 35.6 days of work in a year, equating to approximately $4,800 lost per employee per year for the employer.
Changes in the workplace wellness programmes can help move the needle towards a healthier population. However, traditional one-size-fits-all approaches, such as step-based challenges or simply providing a workout space, are not enough. Many of these programmes cater to the already fit or almost fit, giving little opportunity for those who would reap the most benefits from a lifestyle change. In a 2018 Wellness and Well-Being study by Brandon Hall Group, it was found that the majority of workplaces had fewer than 50 per cent of their employees participating in the provided health and wellness programmes. There’s obviously a disconnect, so what can employers do to help improve their employees’ health?
A personalised, science-backed approach
The problem of physical inactivity presents an opportunity for employers to support their workforce through programmes that meet people where they’re at, using a personalised and progressive approach. PAI (Personal Activity Intelligence) offers one such solution. PAI takes an individual’s profile and heart rate data from physical activity to calculate their PAI Score. It’s a simple, meaningful number that guides people towards the right levels of physical activity for maximum cardiovascular health benefits. PAI has been validated by one of the largest scientific studies in the world, with researchers finding that maintaining a PAI Score of 100 or more was associated with reducing the risk of mortality from cardiovascular and other lifestyle diseases by an average of 25 per cent.
By using a personalised program such as PAI, employers can reward employees for activities that they enjoy, inclusive to all ability levels. And since PAI is calibrated to each individual’s fitness level, it levels the playing field so workplace fitness challenges are fair for all.
The number one reason why people say they are not more active is due to lack of time. So what appeals to many is that earning PAI points also doesn’t have to take a lot of time – in fact, doing short bursts of high-intensity exercises will earn more cardiovascular benefits than lower-intensity sustained activities. Employees can also earn their PAI over longer stretches by bike riding, doing chores, playing with the kids – any activity that gets their heart pumping.
Actionable health insights that drive change
Another personalised approach to employee health and wellness is through LiveSmart, a company offering a service with comprehensive clinical health screenings that can then be used to provide individual assessments and personalised recommendations. One-on-one coaching sessions can be provided to help employees stay on track towards their goals, adapting to each person’s unique challenges.
Other health assessment programmes often run into problems with uptake. Employees have to travel to get tested on inflexible schedules, and the information they are given after the assessment is often hard to understand. LiveSmart, however, offers a quicker and more accessible approach, bringing screening tests directly to the workplace or the employee’s home, resulting in 75 per cent average uptake versus the industry standard of 25 per cent. LiveSmart removes a lot of the potential barriers employees would face, offering personalised encouragement and support at every step in the process to help employees make a change for the better.
Why companies need to lead the way
The average person spends 90,000 hours at work during their lifetime. Given this astounding fact, there is no doubt that the work environment plays a huge role in shaping employees’ habits and mindsets. If we want to see a global shift in health, driven by lifestyle changes, then employers have to recognise it’s their responsibility to do their part for a better tomorrow.
Ultimately, a good employee health and wellness programme will be more effective if the company culture fully supports it throughout their DNA – from the top level down and peer-to-peer. Examples of this include providing healthy snacks, giving time during the day to exercise, health spending accounts, one-on-one support, and endorsing work/life balance.
If your employees are underutilising your wellness programme, ask yourself whether any of the above can create more sustained engagement. The reward is when your people attest to the positive change you have had on their health and well-being. Here’s a story of how PAI Health impacted one employee’s life for the better. How many of your employees can tell a similar story?
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Alex Heaton, CEO and Founder, LiveSmart; James Shields, Founder and Director, The Athlete Centre; Ulrik Wisløff, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology