By Benjamin Jose C. Quito, M.D.

In our fast paced world, it is difficult to incorporate exercise in the workplace.  Physicians often fail to practice what they preach.   Nonetheless, measures must be undertaken for this to be implemented.   The World Health Organization defines a healthy workplace as one that aims to  “create a healthy and safe work environment,  and to ensure that workplace health promotion is an integral part of management practices.” 

In reality, it is hard to achieve this “ideal” environment in the workplace.  Policy makers of companies would need to incorporate these objectives in their policies for effective implementation.   Programs that increase physical activity and promote a healthy lifestyle are rarely initiated.  The culture of a particular company or organization also plays a big role.  For example,  it is a common notion that call center agents are prone to the temptation of smoking brought about by the demands of work and peer pressure.   A lot of employees with office jobs spend approximately six to eight hours of sitting.  Some may have unhealthy meals in between.

So where do we start?  Before change can occur, the individual should be aware for the need for exercise and a healthy lifestyle.  The company health care professional may play an important role in promoting this.   One simple way is to replace sitting time with standing or stepping.   In a recently study published at the European Heart Journal by Genevieve N. Healy et al,  sitting to standing reallocations were significantly associated with a 2% decrease in fasting glucose, 11% decrease in triglycerides, 6% decrease in total/HDL-cholesterol ratio, and 0.06 mmol/L increase in HDL-cholesterol per 2 h/day.  Sitting to stepping reallocations were significantly associated with 11% decrease in BMI, 7.5 cm decrease in waist circumference, 0.10 mmol/L increase in HDL cholesterol, 11% decrease in 2-h plasma glucose, 14% decrease in triglycerides.  Thus, standing or stepping could be a simple and effective way of promoting exercise and a healthy lifestyle in the office setting for both healthy and those with cardiac conditions such as coronary artery disease.   

Simple individualized stretching exercises could also be beneficial in breaking the monotony of prolonged sitting.  It could also prevent the occurrence of deep venous thrombosis.  Patients with stable coronary artery disease could be advised to undergo low intensity activities such as leisurely walking and stretching.  Billiards and golf are among the sports with a low static and dynamic component.  More strenuous activities for patients with stable cardiac disorders could be done after proper evaluation by a physician.  Stress testing could be used as a guide for decision making.

For change to occur, the individual should be aware of the need for change, and should be determined to make that change.  The journey towards a healthier lifestyle usually starts  from baby steps  which could be initiated in the workplace.