It’s no secret that health insurance costs are increasing year-over-year well above inflation. To accommodate those increases, employers are looking for ways to share some of those costs with employees. And who can blame them when the CDC reports that 75% of Americans’ chronic health conditions are caused by lifestyle choices?
But before pointing the finger at the employee, we may want to rethink the office environment. The CDC identified four lifestyle choices, including physical activity, and then assigned responsibility to either the employee or the employer. In the case of physical activity, four out of five “fingers of responsibility” pointed at the employer. On average, office workers spend almost 6 hours per day sitting.
Add to that the findings from a recent study by the Work & Health Research Centre at Loughborough University which found “those who sit for longer at work are more likely to sit outside of work” and you can conclude that a key contributor to a sedentary lifestyle is the office environment. University of South Carolina looked at sedentary behaviors’ effect on the mortality of men and found that risks for heart disease, diabetes, and a number of health problems increased alongside levels of LDL Cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”), triglycerides, blood sugar, and BMI among men who sit more.
So what can employers do other than simply asking employees to exercise more? Consider the following suggestions to build physical activity into the office environment:
- Walking Meetings: Offices are never lacking in meetings. An easy way to implement activity is to make at least one meeting a day a walking meeting.
- Desk Exercise: We all can’t be Google with their company slide, campus bikes, on-site volleyball courts and swimming pools, but we can certainly follow their lead and adjust accordingly. Products like desk bikes and treadmill desks are ways to add activity while we work. Can’t afford these gadgets? Consider buying a few for the office and offer sign in sheets for employees to use an hour a day.
- The Standing Desk: It doesn’t eliminate the need for activity, but it’s a start. Standing desks fit in most cubicles and don’t require too much modification to the current set-up. You can find more about standing desks here.
- Stairwell Affirmation Zone: Can employees easily take the stairs instead of the elevator? Why not encourage them by providing affirming messages along the way? “Only 10 more steps!” “Keep going, you’re steppin’ it up!” Look for those people in your office who love to encourage others. They will likely enjoy the task of decorating the stairwell with these affirmations. Just make sure the stairs are well-lit and meet all safety standards.
- More Cow Bell: In a 2006 key study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that 10 three-minute bouts of physical activity a day garner the same physical benefits for health as continuous 30 minutes of exercise. Consider challenging your employees to do 3 minutes of exercise every hour. You can designate an employee to lead the activity every hour by ringing a Cow Bell (hence the name). Here are some recommendations:
If you think there’s no way your company can implement these ideas, consider one more thing. In 2010, The American Cancer Society led a study that found “a 37% higher chance of premature death for women who sat more than six hours a day and an 18% higher chance of premature death for men who did the same.” Ask yourself, how much is the current office environment affecting the health of our employees? Then make a commitment to finding a way.
At Marsh & McLennan Agency, we believe that any organization, regardless of size or budget, can create a corporate culture that encourages the development of Total Health for every employee.
 Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: May 2010 - Volume 42 - Issue 5 - pp 879-885
 Exercise and postprandial lipemia: effect of continuous compared with intermittent activity patterns. Miyashita M, Burns SF, Stensel DJ. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jan;83(1):24-9.
 Am. J. Epidemiol. (2010) 172 (4): 419-429. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwq155 First published online: July 22, 2010