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Walking to health

Public Health England recently found that, as a country, we spend between 65 and 75 per cent of our working days sitting at our desks.

Public Health England recently found that, as a country, we spend between 65 and 75 per cent of our working days sitting at our desks. Fiona Lowe, Westfield Health Head of HR Development and Strategy, discusses how employers can tackle inactivity, one of the biggest public health challenges facing us today.

The UK is quickly becoming known as a nation of ‘sitters’. Typically, we sit for up to 13 hours a day, with sedentary jobs contributing significantly to the problem. The college of Podiatry says that one in five of us walk for less than 15 minutes a day, with many of us choosing to drive or take public transport to work, and then lead a couch potato lifestyle at home.

Such behaviour not only increases the risk of serious illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, but can also lead to mental health problems.

Since the desk job is one of the main reasons why our lifestyles have become increasingly sedentary, mounting evidence suggests that employers have a key role to play in encouraging their employees to move more while at work in order to tackle the growing problem of inactivity.

Westfield Health’s research, The Employee View, revealed that the majority of employers and employees feel the responsibility for managing staff health and wellbeing should be shared.

Today, it’s expected that employers will shoulder more of the responsibility. Not only does it show that they care about their staff, but it’s also in their own best interests to keep their workforce in the best of health in order to keep the business efficient, productive and prosperous.

So how can employers take that first step and inspire their staff to be more active?

Simple things such as encouraging standing or walking meetings, enforcing regular breaks and even supporting staff to form their own sports teams can all make a difference. Or you could launch standalone health and wellbeing initiatives.

Great success was enjoyed when we recently developed an internal campaign to promote walking among our staff. Walking really is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get fit, lose weight and improve our overall health and wellbeing. And it’s ideal for people of all ages and fitness levels.

So during this year’s National Walking Month, we stepped up to the challenge. Each employee was given a free pedometer and asked to get into teams for a bit of healthy competition. Teams were challenged to walk the 874 miles (or 1.7 million steps) between Land’s End and John O’Groats over a two week period, counting their collective steps along the way and recording how far they got.

One hundred and thirty members of staff were inspired to take part (that’s more than half the company). After tallying all the steps, each of the top two teams had walked more than 1.4 million steps – equating to just over 700 miles. Altogether as a company, we walked more than 20 million steps, or 10,400 miles. That’s like walking to Australia!

Staff were supported and encouraged throughout the fortnight, with a dedicated communications team sending out regular reminders about the benefits of walking and tips to increase their step count. We also introduced a lunchtime walking club so that employees across the company could get together, make new friends and get fit in the process.

In terms of staff engagement and results, this has undoubtedly been one of the most successful initiatives we’ve ever introduced. Employees have reported feeling happier and less stressed, while many have continued to build walking into their everyday lives, even after the end of the competition. They also really enjoyed working in teams and meeting new people.

The campaign created a real buzz online as we encouraged our customers and the general public to get in touch and share their walking stories. We were delighted to hear from people across the UK, and even from overseas. Stories ranged from those who walked the children to school, to someone who set a world record for the coast to coast challenge. Over the course of the campaign, our Facebook page likes increased by 33 per cent, while our Twitter profile received 2,331 profile visits and 130 mentions.

While our initiative was centred on a specific event, health and wellbeing campaigns designed to boost activity in the workplace can be introduced at any time, and at a relatively low cost. There are many free, valuable resources available for employers to help you to get started. Why not visit livingstreets.org.uk and take your first step towards combatting inactivity in your organisation? You may even be able to boost morale and engagement among your staff in the process.

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