Business & Management

Fitness Programs & Workplace Stress

By: Mark J. Occhipinti, M.S., Ph.D., N.D.c.

“It is a laughable sight, to see those guilds of cobblers and tailors… when they march in procession.. stopping, round shouldered, limping men, swaying from side to side. They look as though they had all been carefully selected for an exhibition of their infirmities.” Bermadino Ramazzo 1700.


Physicians and health care professionals have recommended increased physical activity as a means of improving the health of sedentary workers for the past 300 years.

As continued progress in industrial mechanization during the later half of the twentieth century continues, health problems at the work site have increased dramatically. This has been proven as a direct result of a lack, rather than an excess, of physical activity. With the decline in physical activity, there has been a dramatic increase to exploit the very limits of human mental performance, with a resultant increase in stress levels.

Counting the Costs of Poor Fitness in the Workplace

The numbers are striking. American Industry loses $32 billion dollars and 132 million work days lost every year because of employee’s premature deaths that are associated with cardio-vascular disease (high blood pressure, heart stroke, diabetes, and obesity).

Billions more are lost as a result of lowered productivity as a result of sickness and disability. The National Safety Council stated that in 1999 backaches alone cost industry over $1.2 billion dollars in production and services, and 275 million more in workers compensation.

Corporate Fitness and wellness concepts have become a management tool for many industries, including Johnson & Johnson, Xerox, and General Motors are a few examples of companies that incorporate fitness in the workplace. It is a known fact that to a large degree heart disease as we as other degenerative diseases can be prevented through dietary modifications and cardiovascular exercise. There is a direct correlation between the neglect or our body and the increased incidence of heart disease.

A Healthy Worker is a Happy Worker

How might an exercise program improve the health and job satisfaction of a worker? The psychological and physiological benefits of exercise and vigorous leisure are well documented. The key factor for good health are regular and frequent bouts of exercise.

An example would be exercise sessions that last a minimum of 30 minutes, three times per week of cardiovascular exercise (stair-climbing, walking briskly, bike or rowing). Research has clearly demonstrated when people exercise regularly, they live longer and feel better. People notice better sleep patterns, and that they cope more effectively with stress while maintaining a higher level of stamina and energy as a direct result of exercise.

Studies have shown that people who are motivated properly assume more responsibility for their own health when they are engaged in an exercise program.

A report that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1987 reported that a vigorous bout of exercise in the middle of the day improved mental alertness and productivity for 4 to 5 hours afterwards.

What is the Motivation for the Employee?

How might an exercise program improve the health and job satisfaction of a worker?

A deliberate exercise program that is designed more towards the needs of employees can help counter boredom and job dissatisfaction especially if the worker is mentally under-stressed.

Participation in a fitness/life-style program has many times been found to encourage an adoption of other healthy forms of behavior, such as cessation of smoking or weight reduction.

Additionally, benefits can include improvement of the company image and the facilitation of recruitment, gains in productivity, a better quality of work, less absenteeism, reduced health care costs and fewer on the job injuries. Johnson & Johnson reported that employee’s had taken 13% fewer sick days the first year of their involvement in an organized exercise program and fewer sick days by the second year.

Other studies have found similar decreases in absenteeism either in the company as a whole or in program participants after the introduction of sports and fitness programs.

Absenteeism alone can cause a loss in production of about 6 days per worker per year in nonunion operations and 10 to 14 days per worker per year in union operations. As company policy becomes more fitness oriented there may be further selective recruitment of employees and a positive self-image.

Fit individuals tend to be high achievers and are therefore recruits for executive positions. One can easily imagine a fitness program reducing stress or improving perceived health to the point at which an employee can cope.

Employee Turnover

One, a perceived lack of management interest in the worker and two, a mismatch between the optimum physical or mental loading for the individual and the actual demands of the workplace. Workers reactions to the offer of membership in a fitness facility will vary with each individual company.

However, many companies face serious fiscal concern when turnover occurs; especially if large sums of money have been invested in education the attitude of the employee toward exercise.

The individual with a positive attitude might view the offer as an expression of management concern for personal well-being, as a token of stable employment, or as a valuable fringe benefit.

The result could be a more stable, satisfied labor force, with some reduction in workplace stress. Employee turnover was demonstrated to drop from 18% to 7% after a corporate fitness program was offered to several large Canadian corporations.

The Role of the Personal Trainer

A qualified fitness trainer combines the best of well known techniques, providing the member with an array of health and personal benefits.

There is no need for a member to spend hours of their time lifting heavy weights or running long distances to receive the type of conditioning results they desire.

An informed personal trainer provides insights for significant strength, flexibility and endurance improvements which manifest themselves in improved personal appearance, self confidence and consequently improved performance at work and leisure.

Each program is designed by someone qualified in the field of exercise.

After initial screening which includes:

1. Blood pressure
2. Body fat percentage
3. Personal physical history
4. Realistic goals and needs The client is then placed on a program to condition the entire body. The session should begin and conclude with cardiovascular training, including a warm-up 5-8 minutes) and cool-down (5 minutes).

During the core of the workout, each member will perform a series of exercises with resistance equipment designed to increase muscular strength and coordination.

Each major muscle group will be worked to increase muscular tone without placing undue stress on the joints and tendons. Noticeable results are usually seen in the second to third week.


1. Craiz Wright, M.D.Cost Containment Through Health Promotion Programs, Xerox Corporation Fitness Program, J of Occupational Medicine, vol 24,#12, Dec. 82, pp 965-968.
2. Colacino Dennis, A Fitness Porogram that was Designed to Fit, Business and Health Magazine, Dec. 83, pp23-25.

3. Goldberg Rob, Working Out at Work, Savvy Magazine, 83,pp 54-59.

4. Buley, M. Todays Hottest Perk: Fitness in the Workplace, Dynamic Years Mag, Feb. 84, pp12-16.

5. Fielding J. Effectiveness of Employee Health Improvement Programs, J. Of Occupational Medicine, vol. 24 #1 Nov. 82, pp907-915.

6. Kuzela, C. Taking a Scapel to Health Care Costs, Industrial Week magazine, Aug. 83, pp45-51.

7. Gertz N. Organizational and Individual Benefits Associated with health Promotion at the Worksite. 1991.

8. Fichs V. Setting priorities in Health Education and Promotion, Who Shall Have: health, Economics, and Social Choice, 1974.

9. Strategies for Disease Prevention and health Promotion in the Department of health and Human Services, Oct.81, pp589-598.

10. Donaghue, S.Correlation Between Physical Fitness Absenteeism and Work Performance, Public Health, vol. 95, pp109-118.

11. Horne W.M., Effects of a Physical Activity Program on Middle Aged, Sedentary Corporation Executives, American Industry and health.

Share this article
Article Categories: