Sarah Taylor, Head of Specialist and Practitioner Relations

Preventing inactivity – a business and personal focus for 2022

20 January 2022

Only 7% of adults in Europe exercise regularly

(five times per week)2


Your business – and mine – may ask employees to sit in front of screens for hours at a time. Even with the best workstation assessments available, we weren’t designed to sit down all day long.

Where we’re able, our bodies work best when we’re using them – standing, walking, climbing, reaching. I know this first-hand from my training and practice as a physiotherapist. And we all know, to a certain extent, that sitting still for long periods isn’t great for us. But companies should be aware that the cost of inactivity is high: employees who sit all day may experience poorer health, and function less well mentally, than they would if they moved more.1

So I worry for the health of the nation when I see reports, such as a recent World Health Organization (WHO) paper which says that nearly half of all Europeans NEVER exercise or play sports, and that only 7% exercise five times a week.2 

There is pretty good evidence to show that regular physical activity contributes to the prevention and control of a mass of non-communicable diseases, ranging from depression to cancer.1 That’s your employees, and my colleagues, who could all benefit from getting more active. We have a duty of care to prevent inactivity in the workforce. 


The WHO ‘strongly recommends’ at least

150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity

or at least

75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity

or an equivalent combination each week per person.

How active do we need to be?

The WHO strongly recommends that each week, your employees should be doing ‘moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity’ for at least two and a half hours, or exercising vigorously for at least one and a quarter hours (or following an equivalent exercise mix).2 They don’t have to do this in one chunk: bursts of ten minutes a time will do.

(Aerobic activity is where the body’s large muscles move in a rhythmic manner for a sustained period of time. Examples include walking, running, swimming, and bicycling.)

For added health benefits, we should also be working out the major muscle groups at least twice a week – this means physical activity and exercise that increase skeletal muscle strength, power, endurance, and mass. So that’s strength training, resistance training, or muscular strength and endurance exercises.

In normal times, your employees could work on getting this exercise during their commute or in their leisure time, in the workplace, or at home. But the COVID-19 pandemic means we’re not in normal times, and employees working from home may have to work harder to build movement into their day. Added to that the UK, in common with other wealthy nations, is becoming a more sedentary place. Employees may need support to get moving.


Healthy employees, healthy business

How is this important for business?

Some four out of ten employers have said they expect more than half their workforce to work from home regularly once the pandemic ends.4 This is a sizeable shift from the 5% of the workforce who worked from home before COVID-19.5

To be fair, we hear from our clients that home working can give a better work/life balance, giving them more time to pursue physical activity.

But more employers are growing alert to the risks our new working patterns may pose to wellbeing. In terms of barriers to exercise, hybrid working may reduce journeys to and from work. Employees might find it harder to exercise at home, or to access exercise facilities they used near or in the workplace.


The positive impact of activity on business performance 

The WHO strongly recommends we should spend less time sitting. There’s a higher risk of poorer health outcomes for people who are more sedentary, in conditions such as heart disease, certain cancers and type-2 diabetes: all from sitting down.1 

On the flip side, the more people exercise, the lower their risk when it comes to these physical conditions. Exercise also helps employees with their mood, cognitive health and sleep.1 

Research group PJM economics has put a number on our national inactivity. Because improved health means better job performance, it estimates a lack of exercise can cost UK businesses up to £6.6 billion in direct productivity gains a year.6

The conclusion? Just as employees need to work harder at exercise, so do their employers. 

In 2022, companies need to deliver better education and awareness programmes and work out how to motivate and support their employees’ fitness goals. This ranges from the personal (helping managers understand how their colleagues’ work affects their wellbeing, and training them in how to have wellbeing conversations) to the practical: they could consider making gym membership more accessible and offer online exercise programmes. Companies owe it to themselves to invest in this activity: the cost of inactivity will be far higher.


Find out more and follow Sarah on LinkedIn.

Sarah Taylor on LinkedIn

About the author:

Sarah is responsible for leading our specialist and practitioner strategy. As part of this role she is tasked with developing initiatives that, through collaboration and insight with healthcare professionals, ensure the delivery of better quality healthcare for our members and clients.

Initially training as a physiotherapist, Sarah has over 25 years’ experience in both clinical and commercial setting – including the NHS, private hospitals and occupational health.


1 - WHO Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour, World Health Organization 2020, 9789240015128-eng.pdf (

2 - 2021 Physical Activity Factsheets for the European Union Member States in the WHO European Region, World Health Organization 2021, WHO-EURO-2021-3409-43168-60449-eng.pdf

3 - Health matters: getting every adult active every day - GOV.UK (

4 - Embedding new ways of working. Implications for the post-pandemic workplace, CIPD, September 2020 Embedding new ways of working: implications for the post-pandemic workplace (

5 - Coronavirus and homeworking in the UK labour market - Office for National Statistics (

6 - The economics of exercise: Measuring the business benefit of being physically fit. A report for AXA PPP healthcare, September 2019 pjm-economics-the-economics-of-excercise-september-2019.pdf (