Improving Employee Health

Steve Bordley
November 14, 2008 — 2,722 views  
Become a Bronze Member for monthly eNewsletter, articles, and white papers.

Why the sudden interest in incorporating walking into the workplace? Walking has been shown clinically to prevent or mitigate the nation's leading diseases including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even some forms of cancer. It has been shown as an effective measure in promoting weight loss, disease prevention, improving mental and physical health and significantly decreasing the need for medical care.

Shackled to desks, most Americans walk much less than the minimum recommended guidelines of 10,000 steps a day set by the Surgeon General (achievable in 3 hours at a treadmill desk). As a result we have an overweight population with all of the related health concerns and a $100 billion annual health care cost attributable to issues of obesity.

Perhaps more employers would be alarmed if they realized the potential risk that sedentary jobs pose to their employees. Recent scientific research from the University of Missouri-Columbia, directed by lead scientist Marc Hamilton, found that sitting switches off an employee's ability to burn fat. Tracing fat molecules through the body, they discovered it routed directly to adipose or fatty connective tissue for storage when employees are sitting. The team further discovered that the enzyme Lipase, integral to the body's ability to dispose of fat, decreased to extremely low levels when employees were seated for several hours.

Conversely, when workers were standing and in motion fat molecules passed through blood vessels located in muscle where they could be burned by the body for fuel and Lipase returned to normal levels.

Bottom line? Spending the work day in a chair leads to a much greater retention of fat, lower levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) and a reduced metabolic rate, leading to an increased likelihood of obesity and health concerns.

Is the sedentary nature of employment dooming the workforce to inescapable rising rates of obesity? Two thirds of the American population is now categorized as overweight according to the CDC with more than half of the population spending their entire work day bound to a desk. We only became a sedentary society recently in relative terms, we have the capacity to change this situation.

The cure sounds simple enough, stand up and move as much as possible during the day, engaging the larger muscle groups of the back and legs. That poses a challenge for most employees since the workplace is not yet set up to accommodate this activity. Treadmill desks offer a solution. Making a few treadmill desks available so employees receive a minimum of 10,000 steps a day would equate to an average weight loss of 21 pounds per year per employee, not to mention increased mental and physical health and productivity.

Further adding to an employees stress levels, some government bureaucracies are blaming the patient instead of focusing on the cure. Alabama recently enacted a $300 annual increase for health care premiums to state employees that do not meet minimum health requirements. Fines and taxes may not be the most expedient means of motivating human behavior. A more effective measure might be to offer a tax credit for companies whose employees achieve specific wellness goals and to institute more physical activity requirements into our school systems and workplaces. Creating an environment that values health rather than a penalty that singles out individuals with health challenges has a much greater chance for success.

With health care costs rising at 2-3 times the rate of inflation, accounting for approximately 16% of our current GDP, and employees health hanging in the balance, a proactive emphasis on prevention seems more critical now than ever before.

About the Author

Developer of TrekDesk. An affordable, adjustable workstation that when added to an existing treadmill allows users to walk while working, lose weight, enhance health and increase productivity.

Steve Bordley