Fred Turok, chair of the physical activity network; The Silent Killer in our Workplace

Fred TurokPoor employee health costs UK businesses over £100 billion a year.  Fred Turok, chair of the Responsibility Deal physical activity network, urges businesses to sign up to the physical activity pledges – boosting not only public health but also the health of your business.

Most successful business leaders know instinctively that a healthy workforce is a productive workforce.  But what may shock boardrooms up-and-down the country is just how harmful inactivity and being sedentary actually is to our health and well-being, and moreover just how damaging it is for your business.

Physical inactivity is a silent killer.  The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) ranked it as the 4th leading risk factor for global mortality – following closely behind high blood pressure, tobacco and high blood glucose.

So what’s this got to do with business?  As a nation we’re getting lazier and fatter.  At face value this may not seem critical to your top-line, but poor physical health and wellbeing actually has a huge impact on workforce efficiency and productivity.

In 2009/10, 23.4 million days were lost by British industry due to work-related ill health and the annual economic cost of sickness in the UK is estimated to be over £100 billion a year.  On average an inactive person spends 38% more days in hospital than an active person.

It’s not rocket science.  If the economy is going to flourish we need to create a culture that makes physical activity everyone’s business – including employers.  You only need to read the CMOs’ report, Start Active, Stay Active, to see what this can achieve: regular physical activity helps to reduce the risk of many chronic conditions including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer.  But also impacts on depression and boosts well-being.

So what can employers do?  It’s not just about gyms at the office, but it’s about enabling employees to be more active: providing showers, prioritising stairs over lifts or promoting active commuting – walking, running or cycling to work.  For most people even relatively small increases in activity can help give some protection against chronic diseases.

There is something every business can do.  It just needs some creativity and commitment.  Ask your staff what they want, be it a running club, discounted health club access or flexible hours to accommodate exercise classes.  There is a very clear business case for investing in the health and wellbeing of your employees, and it doesn’t require a massive budget.

The Responsibility Deal has a number of simple and pragmatic physical activity and health at work pledges that can help businesses structure and deliver their approach to help staff lead healthier, more active lives.

Signing up to the Responsibility Deal sends your staff and communities a clear message that you value them and gives your business wellbeing credentials.  We currently have almost 200 organisations signed up.  But I want to build on this and get over 1000 partners involved and active, especially given the socio-economic climate and the fact that it is an Olympic and Paralympic year.

Staff continue to be our most vital resource.  If you’re asking can you afford to invest in this – my response would be can you afford not to?

In Network chair blogs, Physical Activity Network | Tagged , ,

4 Responses to Fred Turok, chair of the physical activity network; The Silent Killer in our Workplace

  1. maudikie says:

    I agree that exercise is good for everong BUT what if you have osteoarthritis whch is very painful and becomes even more so when exercis is taken. This applies mostly to the elderly.Weight bearing is painful, but can you suggest arm-chair exercises and deep breathing nstead. Ad tell the physiotherapists that they MUST be conversant with manipulation, as one of them has made my pains very much worse by her over enthusiasm.

  2. Tania@DH says:

    Thanks for the comment. You may find the advice on NHS Choices helpful which is available at
    Tania Pargeter, Public Health Responsibility Team

  3. Jeffrey Lipman DO says:

    Often physicians believe that their overweight patients simply lack will power and discipline and thus they withhold medications that might assist them with weight loss.

  4. Strategic Lead for Health, Sport England says:

    A though provoking blog from Fred. We agree that Start Active, Stay Active provides a great starting point for raising the issue of inactivity. As a Responsibility Deal partner we are committed to providing a range of opportunities to those wanting to increase their activity levels through participation in appropriate and accessible sporting opportunities. Of particular relevance to the workplace agenda and complimenting the work undertaken by other responsibility deal partners are our legacy programmes promoted through Places, People, Play. We’ve partnered with Gold Challenge ( to provide a fun, charity challenge where people take on 2012 themed challenges e.g complete 2012km as part of team. Its free, open to all ages and abilities and has proved to be a great workplace challenge to do with colleagues and friends to motivate them. Over 160 companies have already taken part in the challenge.

    You can also support workplace activity by encouraging your staff to register as Sportmakers. They’ll then receive free training and support to help make sport happen for their colleagues, neighbours and friends

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