mental health workplace wellness

Why Fitness Matters for Workplace Wellness

What role does the nature of work play in designing a well-run workplace wellness program?

This question was addressed in a study on the “Fitness of the US Workforce,” published in the Annual Review of Public Health.

To begin, health wellbeing can be tied to economic wellbeing.

As the author, Nicolaas P. Pronk of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Public Health, Harvard University, writes: “The prosperity of a society is closely intertwined with the health of its citizens. The positive cor- relation between health and per capita income appears to have a direction of causality that runs both ways. Healthy and safe communities are well positioned to attract new businesses and industries, create new jobs, build economic vitality, generate community prosperity, and support global competitiveness. A healthy, vibrant community may be described as a productive community with economic vitality , including an educated, well-prepared, and trained work- force that is strong and resilient to the ongoing challenges it faces. Such a workforce has previously been described as being healthy, productive, ready, and resilient.”

Why does fitness matter?

According to Pronk: The physical fitness levels of the workforce impact, directly or indirectly, employers, shareholders, employees, family members, the larger community, and society as a whole.”

That importance covers both the physical health, as well as economic outcomes.

Pronk writes: “Physical fitness, as defined in this article, has strong relationships with positive health outcomes, including reduced risk for preventable deaths and chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, back pain, and high cholesterol, as well as reduced health care spending, productivity loss, absenteeism, short-term disability, and workdays lost and enhanced mood and work performance.”

Further, “fitness is also associated with other non-health-related benefits, such as increased worker income and overall family earnings, lower debt, lower long-term unemploy- ment (30), low turnover rates, job satisfaction, and recruitment and retention of workers. Owing to its impact on specific occupational groups such as the military, firefighters, and law enforcement, fitness enhances local and national security and safety—an important societal benefit.”

An important insight, however, for program design — and engagement — for workplace wellness programs: Employment may have different influence on men’s fitness as compared to that of women:

“Full-time employment may also increase the likelihood that workers are more active overall. Among men, full-time employment was positively associated with physical activity levels regardless of being in a sedentary type of occupation as compared with those who did not work. Among women, however, those in sedentary full-time jobs were significantly less active than their nonworking counterparts. Yet, women with active jobs were 30% more active during the week than were those with sedentary jobs; a similar observation was noted in 22% of men.”

Still, Pronk finds that companies can gain financial benefit from a health workforce in two ways: “corporate performance and the health of its people.”

Writes Pronk: “This benefit leads to greater economic prosperity for an increasingly large group of people and contributes to the common resource pool, enabling communities to invest more in other macrosocial determinants of health such as education, culture, governance, migration, mass media, infrastructure, and others—many of which are critical to business success and all of which are critical to creation of health. Such investments create good jobs, increase housing values, and support local, national, and global competitiveness. Thus, workforce fitness matters to employees, their families, their companies, and the larger community and should therefore be considered a corporate asset to be simultaneously protected and promoted.”