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Conference Board of Canada report says it’s time to make physical activity the norm at work

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A new report by the Conference Board of Canada is calling on employers to make exercise in the workplace "accepted and expected."

The

Moving Ahead: Workplace Interventions to Reduce Physical Inactivity and Sedentary Behaviour

report identifies two broad types of initiatives that employers can implement in their workplaces to effect change:

•initiatives intended for the entire employee population such as awareness campaigns, education programs and instructor-led activity sessions

•initiatives targeting the particular needs of specific, high-risk employees like health coaching or counselling and targeted activity sessions led by an instructor.

"With more than half of Canadians spending at least one-third of their waking hours at work, the workplace is an ideal and important setting for health promotion," said Louis Thériault, vice-president, public policy, the Conference Board of Canada. "Corporate wellness initiatives must fit with the organizational culture so that employees are more likely to participate."

In addition, inactive employees must decide to change their behaviours and participate, which is a challenge in most organizations. Faced with competing priorities, employees often feel that they cannot prioritize their health.

“Our bodies’ natural desires to move are affected by our information-age sedentary jobs, the ever-present lure of screens and our love affair with the car. The challenge is not just to provide opportunities to be more active, but to shift Canadian cultural norms so that sitting less and moving more are expected and accepted at work,” said Elio Antunes, president and CEO, ParticipACTION.

The report also highlights several organizations that have successfully put these types of initiatives into practice.

• Standard Life hopes to integrate its health and wellness initiatives with health and absence management. It offered a health risk assessment (HRA) to its employees to determine the health risk factors that were predominant in the employee population.

• Chevron Canada has established wellness initiatives to improve and encourage healthy, active lifestyles at its Calgary headquarters. It includes on-site lifestyle centre, a Fitbit that tracks physical activity, twice-a-day fit breaks, ergonomic software to count key and mouse strokes, and a free health screening assessments by a third party provider. Chevron Canada has targeted strategies to promote healthy lifestyles at other locations.

• RBC has developed a wellness communication strategy that includes multiple online platforms and grassroots-based programs led by local "Wellness Champions." To encourage participation in its wellness initiatives and reward healthy behaviours, RBC provides “wellness credits” for employees participating in these programs.  

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