Most of us spend more waking hours at work than any other single place, and the circumstances of work have a profound effect on health. Compared with 50 years ago, more jobs involve a great deal of sitting, and fewer jobs involve even moderate exertion. We are generally exposed to some unhealthy food choices on the job, where it’s convenient to grab a calorie-dense snack or beverage. Pressure to perform may lead to psychological stress. All these forces combine to cause heart disease, obesity, low back pain and depression.
Fortunately, the workplace can also help us stay healthy. The physical plant can be built or modified to encourage taking the stairs or walking between buildings. The work schedule can be adjusted to minimize long, uninterrupted standing or sitting. Cafeteria and vending machine services can make it easier (and cheaper) to buy the healthier selections than the less healthy. At some work sites, groups of employees organize into Biggest Loser teams or challenge other teams to reach exercise goals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recognizing that the work site is a critical determinant of health and wellness, has launched the National Healthy Worksite Program, helping employers and employees work together to reach their shared goal of a healthy workforce. Many of the tools used in this program were developed by researchers in the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and the division is helping the project with program and data analysis.
Wellness in Corporate America
As we learn more about the potential for the work site to promote health, more employers are offering robust programs that try to incorporate wellness into every aspect of corporate life.
Here are some examples of innovation from employers and public health agencies, plus some resources that anyone can use at almost any job site.
- Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center: Live Well/Work Well
- University of Michigan: Mhealthy
- Activity Bursts Everywhere: Fighting the Sedentary Lifestyle at Work Through Structured Activity Breaks
- Annual Review of Public Health: A Scientific Analysis of the Benefits of Work Site Health-Promotion Programs