Physios warning on ‘al desko’ lunches

Health and well-being alert to workers.

Poor work habits like not taking a break, staying late or eating lunch ‘al-desko’ are damaging the health of employees in the West Midlands, physiotherapists are warning.

One in five people surveyed for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) revealed they worked through their lunch every day. Of those who do manage to take a break, half said they ate at their desk.

Only 14 per cent leave their workplace to go outside for a break, and only one per cent goes to the gym, meaning most miss out on any kind of physical activity during the day.

And it seems evening exercise is suffering too. 37 per cent of people surveyed said they often had to cancel exercise plans because of work, while more than a third (38 per cent) said they started earlier or finished later than their contracted hours every day.

The CSP is calling on employers to find ways to support staff to be more physically active during the working day in order to reduce their risk of developing musculoskeletal problems like back and neck pain and more serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Investment in staff health and wellbeing also makes good business sense for employers. According to the latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive, workplace sickness absences cost the UK an estimated £13.8 billion in 2010/11.

Only 23 per cent of workers said their employer provided any kind of exercise opportunities, such as a subsidised gym membership, a lunchtime running club, or an after work fitness class. Prof Karen Middleton, chief executive of the CSP, said: “Full-time workers spend a significant bulk of their week at work, or travelling to and from it. Finding ways to build in time to do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity, five times a week, can be a challenge.

“Free facilities like outdoor gyms, or simply going for a brisk walk at lunchtime, can help people to be more active during the day. You could also consider getting off the tube a stop early or parking further away from work. The consequences of not doing so can be devastating, with many people suffering ill health and prolonged spells off work.

“Aside from the human cost, the price of inactivity for employers can be vast, with higher sickness absence costs and lower productivity. Physios play a key role in getting people back to work and keeping them fit for work. It is in everybody’s interests to find ways to tackle the enormous problem of inactivity in the UK and we would encourage people to take responsibility for their own health.”

26 per cent of those surveyed who haven’t yet used an outdoor gym said they would use one if it was available to them locally.

The CSP says this should encourage local councils, which have public health responsibilities, to make even greater efforts to maintain and promote outdoor gyms for free lunchtime or post-work exercise.

This Aviva-sponsored poll is being released today for the CSP’s annual ‘Workout at Work Day’, when hundreds of physiotherapy staff will be going into workplaces and other public spaces to encourage people to increase their levels of physical activity.

Health Minister Lord Howe said, “The Department of Health recognises the importance of Work out at Work day and needs to lead by example on staff health and wellbeing.

“We offer staff gym memberships, exercise classes and wellbeing advice to encourage staff to stay fit and healthy – as well as helping to increase motivation and productivity at work. We are also working in partnership with industry, through the Responsibility Deal, to take real steps towards getting the nation into healthy habits for life.”