Active workers benefit your business

Worldwide 1.4 billion adults are insufficiently active to achieve positive health outcomes (33% of women and 25% of men). There has been no change in this metric since 2001. High income countries are the worst offenders, where individuals are twice as likely to be inactive when compared to individuals in low-income countries.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) have a stated objective of reducing physical inactivity by 15% by 2030.

Remarkably, humans walked on the moon in 1969 and we are still trying to get humans to walk on earth to this day.

The health impact of inactivity is well documented. What is not well researched is inactivity and the impact this has on business generally and more specifically – productivity.

A small 10-day study of 200 employees from the UK and China attempted to research this topic. The researchers used self-reported data on activity, combined with more objective data from wearables.


Motivation for physical activity predicts physical activity. The more people saw activity to be fun and enjoyable – the more likely it would happen.

Physical activity on one day flows to benefits on following day. These flow on benefits contribute to work related outcomes. Some of these flow on benefits included better sleep, greater vitality and energy levels, as well as greater focus on the task due to better concentration and attention.

Being physically active was seen to improve next day job performance, as well as health. Activity in this case means being active across the whole day – not a lunchtime hit out. This “whole day” pattern of activity gives rise to the benefits being delayed in terms of work and health. The time lagged benefits impact on next day work performance, creativity and health symptoms.

When the employee’s perception of their ability to perform their job is high, these individuals tend to hold stronger positive beliefs that physical activity will enhance their capacity to work even more. This perception fosters their belief of having a great capacity to also improve overall personal health.

Other studies have reported on the benefits associated with physical activity and the workplace. The researchers referred to these benefits as “mobilising physical resources”. They include better sleep, greater vigour and hence effectiveness at work and improved cognition or thinking to allow better focus on tasks at work. These elements contribute to reducing muscle soreness, better daily task management and are strong predictors of self-reported creative performance in the workplace.

Aussie data

Our data on Australian workers (n=1700), where being active is defined as – at least 5 times per week where you “huff and puff”, indicates that 52% of males and 56% of females do not meet these criteria. In other words, if you are active in Australia, you are in the minority. As a direct result, our national health profiles are not where they should be, and these not so desirable profiles impact workplaces, work performance and wellbeing.

What can be done to improve activity levels and ensure the benefits are shared between me, my work and community?

Just build habits, day by day, keep at it, slowly as it goes – there are numerous time lagged benefits.

Just do something – rather than nothing. WHO want us to clock 2.5 hours of moderate activity and 1.25 hours of high intensity per week. If you are just starting out to get more active – gradually accumulate activity over any day. Our data suggests short bouts of activity, accumulated over time has great benefits.

Find an activity that you feel is less onerous and more enjoyable. Aim for a 20-minute block of time to start accumulating benefits. These benefits will positively impact on you, your work and performance.

A more active, healthy and fitter employee is a great asset to any business.

Source: Cheng BH and Li YN, Get Physical Get Productive, Weekend Australian July 8-9, 2023. 

Reading: World Health Organisation guidelines.

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