Sometimes, simple changes can produce big results. A new report claims that if working adults added an extra 15-minute walk to their daily routine, the world economy could grow by $100 billion per year.

In the study, commissioned by health insurance group Vitality and performed by think tank RAND Europe, researchers projected how increasing physical activity in adults could lower mortality rates, lessen the amount of sick days taken, and reduce presenteeism. They discovered a significant relationship between physical activity and economic output, due to a larger workforce and better employee engagement.

The study also found that as exercise levels increased, the possible economic gains improved as well. In one scenario, researchers modeled the growth when all working adults met World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for exercise. For healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 64, that means at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes of more vigorous workouts. The results showed that employees would gain up to five additional days of productive time each year, which equates to a $220 billion global boost annually.

Additionally, if currently active adults increased their activity by just 20%, global output could rise by $360 billion more each year.

For employers, these findings highlight a broader trend of moving from return on investment to value on investment measures for employee wellness programs. Each year, physically inactive workers lose between 2.6 to 3.7 days of productivity. Rather than focusing on an employee’s total time spent at their desk, employers should consider the quality of their performance.

Potential Health Benefits For Workers

This is not the first time studies have linked something as simple as walking with increased productivity. In 2011, the Foundation for Chronic Disease Prevention in the Workplace discovered that psychological well-being, including better concentration and reduced stress levels, improved when employees completed 10,000 steps per day. Similarly, in 2013, Scientific American reported that mental downtime replenished focus and improved mental performance.

Despite all the research, an estimated 30% of adults around the globe have inactive lifestyles. That means a large number of workers stand to improve their productivity. By increasing time spent exercising, workers can achieve:

Better mental health, indicated by lower rates of anxiety and depression, better social connections, and an improved mood.

  • A decreased risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and even certain cancers.
  • Better sleep, leading to less fatigue throughout the workday.
  • A decreased risk of injury, thanks to stronger bones as well as better coordination for preventing falls.
  • A longer life, with lower all-cause mortality rates and a reduction of premature death. In fact, RAND specifically found that currently-inactive 40-year-old adults could extend their life expectancy by an average of 3.2 years, by simply adding 20 minutes of jogging per day.

Employers Can Help

Unfortunately, many jobs are sedentary in nature. This is likely why people are becoming less active—especially in higher-income countries. Most people spend their days simply sitting behind a desk or computer screen.

Offering employee wellness programs can help. RAND claims the key lies in successfully getting employees to participate. They note that wellness programs are most effective at this when they include social and environmental components.

For example, an unhealthy employee is not likely to take a daily walk on their own. However, scheduling a time for a team to go outside increases likelihood of participation. Not only do team-building activities offer encouragement and accountability, socializing makes workers feel like they belong.

Having access to the right environment also influences activity levels. Providing or subsidizing gym memberships gives workers access to a resource they might otherwise not consider or be able to afford. The workplace setting itself can encourage physical activity, such as having access to walking trails or even an on-site gym.

Considering that 58% of the world’s population spends one-third of their adult life at work, an effective wellness program can greatly increase the number of active adults. In turn, such programs add value for the company with improved worker productivity.

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