Physical activity interventions need to be tailored to individual needs, report says

One intervention saw staff receive discounts in return for walking more.

There is an opportunity for employers to support their staff to become more active, but they will need to tailor interventions to fit differing working patterns and types of work, a think-tank has suggested.

In a new report, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) argued that, as the majority of working-age adults spend much of their waking time at work, employers have a responsibility to promote physical activity, which will in turn help improve health and wellbeing and drive productivity.

The Moving Matters report, which collated the results of 50 research projects into the benefits of physical activity, found that efforts to develop more healthy habits in one area of life, such as reducing sedentary time, were likely to prompt efforts to improve other areas, such as diet and physical activity.

One such study involved introducing sit-stand desks, behavioural feedback, goal setting and action planning, one-on-one coaching, self-monitoring and a prompt device to discourage sedentary working in an office environment in an NHS hospital.

After 12 months the intervention group reduced their sitting time by 83 minutes per work day compared with the control group.

Another study saw office-based staff in Northern Ireland given key fobs that could be tapped on sensors within two kilometres of workplaces to earn points that could be redeemed at local retailers. Participants were encouraged to set their own goals and monitor their activity, while being sent motivational emails, tailored feedback and walking routes.

However, the study did not produce the results researchers were hoping for. An organisational restructure and problems with the technology left staff frustrated and only 39% of points were redeemed.

NIHR said the study addressed some important questions around what works and what does not work in getting groups of people to increase their physical activity.

Sarah Ruane, strategic lead for health at Sport England, said: “The NIHR physical activity evidence review will be an invaluable tool to anyone working in practice or policy. Evidence should be one of the key building blocks for any decisions. It helps decision makers determine what works and what doesn’t, what should be commissioned and prioritised, and (equally important) what should be stopped.”

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