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The key opportunities in the workplace lie in shifting the behaviour and environments we work in to support better choices and ‘normalise’ healthier actions

The latest National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18 have just been released and once again the results highlight the upward trajectory of overall increases in chronic disease.

Since the 2007-2008 National Health Survey, the number of Australians with one or more chronic conditions has increased from 42.2% to 47.3%, a significant 5% increase.

At the same time we have some good news, as research continues to point to the impact of lifestyle changes and daily habits on health outcomes. This coinciding research highlights that when it comes to workplace wellbeing programs, our focus should be on the inclusion of behavioural change into the work day to support and facilitate healthier outcomes and reduce the causes of chronic disease.

The key opportunities in the workplace lie in shifting the behaviour and environments we work in to support better choices and ‘normalise’ healthier actions. When we reflect on the environments and culture we work in, are we prioritising physical, mental and social health? I’m sure as we’ve recently worked on budgets, looking at strategy and goals for the next financial year, we have big visions and plans in these areas.

For these to materialise we need our most valuable resource, our people, to be at their best. So what strategy have we included to ensure this happens? As we allocate budgets to IT improvements, systems and support have we allocated to wellbeing? Perhaps we are not aware of the opportunity and ROI that this investment can deliver or perhaps it’s too hard to measure. Most research now shows a ROI of between $3-$6 for every dollar invested in wellbeing.

With that in mind, how do we address two of the most prominent causes of chronic disease in our workplaces?

Mental Health

In 2017-18, one in five (20.1%) or 4.8 million Australians had a mental or behavioural condition, an increase from 4.0 million Australians (17.5%) in 2014-15”.

By providing improved mental health literacy and normalising the fact that many people experience mental health symptoms we are able to create a more inclusive workplace. Through education we can support those to seek help or equip other employees to recognise when someone is struggling.

We also know that research supports the link between good mental health and physical activity. Further research by the Black Dog Institute shows exercise benefits mental health by:

  • Improving memory, focus and thinking skills.
  • Improving sleep so you feel more energised the next dayg
  • Reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Preventing against depression.
  • Building your coping and resilience ability.
  • Distracting from negative thoughts.
  • Giving you a sense of accomplishment.
  • Offering opportunities to socialise with others.

Encouraging incidental exercise throughout the day, quick breaks and walking meetings improves physical movement and even the chance to have an extra chat or connect with someone on a social level.

Physical Activity Guidelines

In 2017-18, only 15.0% of 18-64 year olds and 17.2% of 65 plus year olds meet the 2014 Physical Activity Guidelines

As a refresher, the weekly guidelines to help improve blood pressure, cholesterol, heart health, as well as muscle and bone strength are:

150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or

75 minutes (1 ¼ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity

Increasing this to the below guidelines, can help provide greater benefits and help to prevent cancer and unhealthy weight gain:

300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or

150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity

Moving More – Through Incidental Movement

We all hope our weekly gym session or the walk we take a few times a week helps!! As we know, it does but if we want to make a real change how do we support everyone at work?

How do we make movement inclusive and normal? How do we support and encourage the almost 50% of adults who are overweight or obese, those already juggling so much in their schedules who find the very thought of structured exercise overwhelming?

The answer lies in incidental movement and building short bursts of activity into every day, every hour so that we all ‘normalise’ the idea of moving more and reduce risk factors. Through simple things like an hourly stretch, taking the stairs, walking at lunchtime, reduced sitting and introducing walking/standing meetings we can create better habits.

Through health literacy and wellbeing sessions we can shift the focus from exercise and replace it with movement. Creating change really is about the small steps and seeking opportunities in your day to support others.

When evaluating wellbeing programs, considering the ABS report and evidence, we need to refocus our efforts on the simple behaviours and change that support holistic wellbeing. Significantly lasting change will come from developing a wellbeing culture supported through programs that normalise healthier habits and speak to the increasing population at risk of chronic disease. Taking an approach that supports the least healthy, that is inclusive and achievable, will deliver a broader impact.