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Walk this Way

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This originally appeared in the Workplace Wellness: Walk This Way guidebook from ChangeLab Solutions

Physical activity reduces our risk of insomnia, depression, diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and even early death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise a week and 2 days a week of muscle strengthening exercises. Yet, 4 in 5 adults are not getting even that much physical activity.

People want to do what is best for their health and the health of their families, but our environments and the policies that shape our environments continue to make meeting basic daily physical activity recommendations nearly impossible for the majority of workers in the United States. This doesn’t just affect our health and mental health; it affects our bottom lines. Physical inactivity accounts for $90 billion in medical expenses each year.

Given that many adults spend half their waking hours at work, the workplace can play a big role in supporting positive lifestyle changes. At the organizational level, workplace wellness policies and programs vary greatly in form and scope, but they commonly focus on disease prevention and health promotion. They often help employees participate in more physical activity.

Most workplace wellness efforts have focused on the organizational level. However, jurisdiction-wide policies (such as executive orders, resolutions, ordinances, or laws) implemented by state and local governments have also encouraged organizational wellness policies. The Walk this Way guidebook discusses state and local policies for raising awareness, creating wellness councils, establishing government wellness programs, offering paid leave for physical activity, and creating tax credits for small businesses with workplace wellness programs.

Communities have used these kinds of policies to support the following activities: 

  • raise awareness about workplace wellness and the need for physical activity 
  • create demand for organizational workplace wellness policies and programs 
  • create financial incentives for businesses to adopt workplace wellness programs

Workplace wellness, though, does not begin and end at the office. Community health and employee health are intrinsically linked. For example, adults typically spend almost an hour commuting to and from work. They run errands throughout the workday – like buying lunch or picking up the dry cleaning. Research indicates that 89% of people in the United States drive to destinations that are less than 2 miles away. For adults to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine, they need communities that are designed to make it easier to walk, bike, and use public transportation.

Recognizing this connection between employee health and community health, organizations like the National Academy of Sciences and the Vitality Institute have called for policies that promote community health and simultaneously support employee health. Additionally, the Community Guide recently released recommendations to improve physical activity through built environment strategies, many of which are included here. Therefore, this resource includes policies that implement complete streets, update comprehensive plans, revise zoning laws, and encourage transportation demand management. Communities are using these policies to support the following actions:

  • encourage employees to live healthier, more active lives 
  • reduce health care costs for the entire community as well as for individual employers 
  • improve the health of the local pool of potential job applicants

This Walk this Way guidebook provides wellness promoters with inspiration, guidance, and an understanding of some common state and local policies that support physical activity and wellness in and around the workplace. To download the guidebook, click here.

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