Workplace sick leave could be cut by more than 2.7 million days a year if UK workers met weekly exercise targets recommended by the government, a report suggests.
The government aims to have 70% of the UK population doing 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week, by 2020.
The Health of the Nation report, by professional services firm Deloitte, said the resulting drop in sickness absence would boost the economy by £487m a year.
The survey of more than 10,000 people shows that those who exercised less than the recommended 150 minutes a week took an average of 3.5 sick days. People who exercised more than that amount took an average of three sick days per year.
Adrian Balcombe, Deloitte partner specialising in the fitness industry, said the benefits of a fitter population would be felt throughout the whole economy. “Employers would see increased productivity through reduced absenteeism, and people would enjoy a healthier lifestyle with reduced risk of illness,” he said.
The report found the average UK expenditure on exercise is just 7.46 per person per month. The challenge for government and employers is to find new ways to motivate people to exercise regularly, Balcombe said.
“Employers need to incorporate exercise perks into their benefits package to make up for the [low] amount the average person is prepared to spend on exercise. The reduced absence rates and improved health of the workforce is likely to fund this,” he said.
In separate research published by Investors in People last week, it was claimed that achieving a healthy working environment is becoming an increasing priority for employers as they try to counter workplace issues such as stress.
Almost 40% of the 1,000 organisations questioned said that having a healthy workplace had become more of a priority than a year ago, with 80% viewing the issue as a high priority over the next 12 months.
The need to tackle stress is clearly a motivating factor – one-third (32%) of the respondents felt employee stress was an issue for their organisation.
But there was a feeling that more could be done, with 29% of firms thinking their organisation should do more to promote healthy working to employees.
Managers struggle in silence with ill health
Nearly 60% of UK managers admit to being unproductive for one-fifth of their working time due to poor health.
Research from the Chartered Management Institute shows that sickness levels are increasing, but managers are unwilling to report their symptoms.
The Quality of Working Life report questioned more than 1,500 UK managers. It recommends organisations should explore the value of investing in health initiatives, and that managers should be effectively trained to deal with workplace health concerns.