Exercise, work productivity and wellbeing

A new study from the College of Science, Health and Engineering will examine the impact of physical activity on work productivity, sleeping habits and wellbeing during and after COVID-19

Researchers at La Trobe University, the University of Auckland and the University of Notre Dame Australia are investigating the impact of physical activity on work productivity, sleeping habits and wellbeing during and after COVID-19.

Each year, 3.2 million deaths worldwide are attributed to physical inactivity. It is the fourth leading risk factor for chronic disease.

“Even before the imposed COVID-19 restrictions, only 15% of Australian adults met the minimum recommended amount of physical activity or exercise,” explains Dr Jayden Hunter, a lecturer in exercise physiology at La Trobe’s Rural Health School. “And if physical inactivity leads to chronic disease, the flow-on effect in the workplace can be significant, especially in relation to mental wellbeing.”

Chronic disease increases the risk of occupational absenteeism, or poor health resulting in sick leave. It also increases presenteeism, where a person is unable to work at full capacity due to factors like illness or stress. Physical inactivity has been shown to be directly related to absenteeism and presenteeism.

The global financial impact of lost productivity exceeds $14 billion per year, but the promising relationship between physical activity and work productivity means that exercise might play a key role in not only reducing chronic disease risk, but reducing employee absenteeism and presenteeism.

The research team, led by Dr Hunter, will use an online survey to chart the exercise patterns of people in Australia and New Zealand. “We are surveying participants now and will repeat the process in six months at a time that will, hopefully, coincide with eased COVID-19 restrictions and the restoration of usual work behaviours.”

“This will allow us to further investigate the link between physical activity and the productivity of workers during and after COVID-19, and identify key barriers and facilitators to exercise,” he says.

“The impact of COVID-19 on health and wellbeing across the world is still relatively unknown, and businesses are coming to grips with the work and productivity changes associated with the disease,” says Dr Ashley Cripps, a lecturer at Notre Dame’s School of Health Sciences. “This study will help identify if, and how, personal factors linked to individuals’ health and wellbeing have changed in these unprecedented times, and if there are longer-term implications for the individuals and businesses.”

“Less than 9% of the world’s 3.2 billion employees have access to workplace wellness programs,” adds Dr Hunter. “Our research will help organisations to design, deliver and measure the effectiveness of wellbeing programs for their employees. A healthy workforce is a productive workforce.”

Survey participants are needed. Find out more.

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