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Stephen  Bevan

Thousands on ten thousand a day

Authors: Stephen Bevan Stephen Bevan

24 May 2012

One of the biggest public health challenges we face in the UK is that of physical exercise. Sedentary lifestyles mean that too many of us take little or no regular or strenuous physical exercise. As a result, rates of obesity, diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and depression are higher than they should be.

The Work Foundation regularly points out - though I hope not in a 'preachy' way - that these public health challenges have implications for employers because they affect attendance & productivity at work. More should be done, we argue, to improve workforce health.

But what about the people who work at The Work Foundation? Do we practice what we preach? Or are we just wagging a self-righteous finger at the world from behind our desks?

Well, aside from providing bicycle racks & subsidised gym membership, today we have almost half of our staff signed up to take part in the Global Corporate Challenge. This is a gently competitive walking event lasting 16 weeks and involving hundreds of employers. Sporting our pedometers we will all be trying to hit and then exceed a daily target of 10,000 steps each day. An evaluation of last year's Challenge, carried out by colleagues at Lancaster University, demonstrated real benefits to participants and their employers.

We're hoping that this Challenge will help colleagues increase their physical activity, embed good habits & behaviour change which are sustained long after the 16 weeks are over, as well as providing a positive social activity and a bit of fun for all of our staff. Aside from the physical benefits, we also know that exercise is good for our mental health and general mood and, although Work Foundation folk are a generally cheery bunch, it's no bad thing to inject an element of cheer into everyone's daily routine.

The Global Corporate Challenge (GCC) is just one such initiative. I discovered this week that our friends at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists are launching their own 'Work Out at Work' campaign on 19th of June which has similar goals and it worth signing up to if you've missed the GCC 'window' for 2012.

Some people might argue that all this organised exercise and bonhomie is patronising 'nannying' and that employees should be free to indulge in a depraved orgy of self-abuse if they choose without being hectored by self-appointed health 'police'.

I certainly wouldn't support compulsion. But I do think that employers will find themselves challenged more & more to play an active part in promoting and supporting wider public health initiatives - such as the Responsibility Deal- as the health of the workforce declines through a rise in preventable 'lifestyle' conditions.

So, think of us as we attach our pedometers and stride out into the world over the next 16 weeks. It promises to be, er, fun.