We’re living for longer, but we’re not healthier. We need to take more care of ourselves, says Maggie Williams
By 2025, it is estimated that 5 million people in the UK will have diabetes. If current rates of diagnosis remain the same, 90% of those will be Type 2 and therefore predominantly related to lifestyle. In 2015, 61% of UK adults are overweight. Research carried out in 2013 found 80% of UK adults failed to meet basic national government targets for exercise.
And, while we might be less fit, we are expecting to have to work for longer. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of employees aged 65 or older rose from 801,000 in the three months to May 2010 to 1.17 million over February to April 2015 – an increase of 46%.
Put together, those figures show that the need to address the health of the nation is as pressing as ever – and with the NHS facing a deficit of £2bn, there’s both an economic and a physical need to improve our overall wellbeing.
The workplace can have a crucial role in improving – or worsening – the health of the nation. On the positive side, there’s the opportunity to use improvements in health as a form of benefit (gym memberships, cycle-to-work schemes, online health portals, medical insurance), or as a social activity (inter-departmental competitions; achieving collective goals; working with active charities; even a simple walk at lunchtime).
And yet many employers still fail to commit to health and wellbeing, held back either by a failure to prove return on investment, commitment from the top or an inability to change the culture. Despite that failure to commit, on whatever day you are reading this, hundreds of thousands of workers across the UK will have called in sick.
Equally, workplaces can be toxic, too. The mounting number of organisations that are reporting increased incidences of mental health problems may be a good thing if it means there is more transparency around a difficult topic – but it could also mean that the strains and pressures of everyday life at work are taking their toll.
Then there is the issue of sitting down all day, amid expectations of productivity increases that keep workers tied to their desks and under pressure.
Creating a healthy workplace doesn’t have to be expensive. It is about cultural change, drive from the top, building a positive and supportive environment. There are likely to be health ‘champions’ in your organisation already who could pass on their enthusiasm to others. Introducing ‘health by stealth’, through small changes such as better hydration and making sure staff take a proper break at lunchtime can also reap rewards.
Coupling those changes with additional health benefits to help staff engage and become enthused with their own wellbeing can drive even greater improvements.
Like any individual health and fitness programme, change doesn’t happen overnight. The results might be slow to show, but in the end they will be there for all to see. Creating a healthier workplace is about more than return on investment – it’s about playing a part in the health of the nation.