Health Gains

When it comes to the workplace, being present is not the same as being productive. We take a look at a new study which shows the relationship between being more active and productivity – and the knock-on effect this could have on the UK economy.

RAND Europe used a dynamic, multi-country macro-economic model to comprehensively assess the impact of physical inactivity on national economies on a consistent basis, allowing for an aggregation of the effect to the global economy. The study claims to use a novel approach to synthesise the existing evidence on physical activity and mortality risk by taking study design and publication bias into account. It utilises Vitality’s data on workplace health, derived from its Healthiest Workplace initiative in seven countries, to assess the relationship between physical activity and performance at work. And it combines the mortality and productivity effects into a single model to project the true economic cost of physical inactivity over time.

The study points to a significant relationship between inactivity and productivity loss, driven largely by ill-health related presenteeism.

Hans Pung, President of RAND Europe, comments on the significance of the study; ‘This is the first time that a multi-country macroeconomic model has been applied to the area of physical activity, facilitating a detailed assessment of the current and future implications of insufficient physical activity. The study points to a significant relationship between inactivity and productivity loss, driven largely by ill-health related presenteeism. We hope that these insights will support policymakers and employers with new perspectives on how to enhance the productivity of their populations.’

The study also found that by meeting at least the minimum World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on active lifestyles, up to five productive working days can be added every year. This is associated with physical and mental health gains, improved lifestyle behaviours (such as improved sleep quality) and even better engagement at work. In addition to productivity, individuals also benefit from improved mortality rates – ranging from 17% to 34% for the physically inactive moving to a state of becoming highly active. Vitality estimates this to result in 2.5 years of additional life (based on an average 40-year-old).

For the UK, the combined impact of improved productivity and reduced mortality from getting people to meet at least the WHO recommended levels of activity would contribute to GDP gains of at least $11bn (£8.5bn) annually, or $170 (£130) per person. This excludes the cost savings to the NHS associated with improvements in physical activity, resulting from a reduced incidence of diseases linked to inactivity, such as cardiovascular disease, certain forms of cancer, diabetes and mental health.