- Workplace programs to encourage physical activity were more successful if they incorporated elements such as pedometers, Internet-based tools and environmental cues.
- Short term interventions lasting six months or less were more effective than long term interventions.
Workplace efforts to encourage employees to increase physical activity are most effective when they incorporate tools such as pedometers, email reminders, helpful websites and related electronic health information, finds a new review in the American Journal of Health Promotion.
The review also finds benefits for interventions that alter the social and physical environment to support greater physical activity, such as the use of prominent signs to encourage people to use the stairs.
“These findings provide intervention programmers with suggestions to improve the effectiveness of future workplace interventions,” said lead author Quyen G. To, a Ph.D. student in the department of health promotion, education and behavior at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health.
The research team used 20 well-designed studies published between 2000 and 2010 with a total of 9,865 participants for their review. Most study participants were overweight females age 38 and older.
Short-term interventions lasting 6 months or less were more likely to result in positive effects, including increased physical activity and lowered BMI, than were longer term interventions. The authors speculated that this may have been due to initial excitement for a new fitness regimen waning over time.
The interventions that were found to be most useful in this review of workplace settings were similar to interventions that have been effective in other settings, such as schools, faith-based groups, and parks departments, notes Jennifer Gay, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the health promotion and behavior department at the University of Georgia College of Public Health. Gay cited the use of point-of-decision prompts, such as posters encouraging stair use, and the provision of walking maps that include suggested routes and distances, as simple, low-cost steps that proved valuable in this and earlier studies.
The review’s findings also jibe nicely with strategies recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task Force, a panel organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gay added. “This consistency is helpful when we are designing a health promotion program at a worksite,” she said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
The review authors suggest that employers could help employees stay motivated to continue workplace programs by paying them to be physically active, but note that more research is needed to support the long-term benefits of these programs.
Nevertheless, says Gay, chronic disease is associated with great costs to employers, through higher insurance premiums. “Employers need to see the value of having active employees,” she said, “and understand that fostering greater activity can reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.”
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Quyen G. To, Ted T. L. Chen, Costan G. Magnussen and Kien G. To. (2013) Workplace Physical Activity Interventions: A Systematic Review. American Journal of Health Promotion. e-113-e123