Can you afford an inactive workforce?

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We've all heard the phrase "exercise fun", but did you know that exercise can also improve performance at work? It is well documented that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the number of sick days, health problems among employees and related healthcare costs. This not only makes good business sense, but also for society as a whole. In this article, we'll look at how much your company and society can save by encouraging exercise at work, while also taking a look at the many benefits it offers.

Socio-economic benefits

There is no doubt that inactivity costs society dearly. Norwegians are becoming less and less active, so we have a long way to go to achieve the recommended level of activity. The Norwegian Directorate of Health recommends that adults between the ages of 18 and 64 get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, or 75 to 150 minutes of high intensity exercise. Myworkout recommends as little as 32 HIT minutes a week, and if we can achieve this, we could save society up to 455 billion NOK annually!

The reasons for this huge economic benefit are many, but among them we find that active people are generally more engaged citizens and have lower healthcare costs. Health expenditure plays a major role here, as approximately NOK 288 billion was spent on healthcare for Norwegians in 2013, equivalent to almost NOK 57,000 per capita.

Inactivity can lead to a range of lifestyle diseases, and over 40 percent of the Norwegian population now live at high risk of developing these diseases, which negatively impacts quality of life and can shorten life. Now, it should be said that the entire population of Norway cannot, for various reasons, follow these recommendations or provide the same financial returns - no matter how much they exercise. It does, however, give an indication of how much inactivity costs society.

Economic benefits for businesses

Another reason for the socio-economic benefit is that active people have a higher work capacity than inactive people. This means that productivity increases, which benefits both the individual company and society as a whole. But what does increased work capacity actually mean for an employer?

The 40 percent who have, or are at risk of developing, lifestyle diseases are less effective at work, have more sick days and cost an employer, or society, almost NOK 2,000 per day they are away from work.

Training during working hours

In 2011, Swedish researchers published a report showing that it would be profitable for companies to allow their employees to spend some of their working hours exercising. This is precisely because the time employees spend in the gym is offset by increased production and fewer sick days. In other words, the company where the trial was conducted increased its production without increasing the number of employees - just by allowing them to spend time exercising.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also looked at a number of studies on activity levels in relation to work capacity. Their conclusion is also that physical activity has a significant effect on productivity.

Efficiency is measured in more than just money

A number of years ago, our professors carried out an attendance project together with NHO at cleaning companies in the Trondheim region. Cleaners Cleaners top the statistics for sickness absence despite being among the most physically active during the working day. They also have a very high incidence of musculoskeletal disorders. The aim of the KomDaVel project was to investigate which measures could reduce sickness absence in this occupational group. After 12 weeks of specific training, we were able to document a 19% reduction in sick leave and the effect persisted. You can read more about this project here.

There is not only a financial gain when employees in a company start exercising. It is also positive for the working environment. Employees who exercise are more positive, take on challenges more easily and generally contribute to a better workplace environment.

Physical activity also has a beneficial effect on the brain's executive functions, which are the brain's ability to formulate problems, organize, plan and carry out tasks. These functions are essential for functioning in daily life in general and working life in particular.


We know that physical activity prevents mental illness, musculoskeletal disorders and a range of age-related diseases. We know that this is crucial for having robust bodies in life in general. With such a simple and free measure, we can remove large numbers from the sick leave statistics. We can't remove everyone on sick leave; life happens and every now and then we need a break. But the residual work capacity is not zero even if we take a break.

So now we have to ask ourselves: Can we afford for our employees not to exercise? We've seen how much your company and society can save, both financially and in terms of a better working environment, by encouraging physical activity. It's time to take action and inspire your employees to exercise regularly. Contact us today to find out how we can help you implement an effective workplace fitness program. Together, we can increase productivity, reduce sick days and create a healthier and more engaged workforce. Talk to us today and take the first step towards a more active and successful business!


Employee Self-rated Productivity and Objective Organizational Production Levels, Effects of Worksite Health Interventions Involving Reduced Work Hours and Physical Exercise (2011), Ulrica von Thiele Schwarz and Henna Hasson

Kunnskapsgrunnlag fysisk aktivitet. Innspill til departementets videre arbeid for økt fysisk aktivitet og redusert inaktivtet i befolkningen (2014), Helsedirektoratet

Innspill til ny oppdatering av reduserte helsekostnader for gående og syklende, samt konsistensvurderinger av verdsetting av liv og helse anvendt i ulike sammenhenger i Statens vegvesens Håndbok 140 (2014), Helsedirektoratet

Er det mulig å beregne verdien av liv og helse? (2014), Helsedirektoratet

Fysisk aktivitet gir stor gevinst (2014), Norsk Helseinformatikk

En samfunnsøkonomisk analyse av et tilbud om tre timers fysisk aktivitet i uka i den betalte arbeidstiden (2010), Kristoffer Koren Sørvang

Unhealthy diets & physical inactivity (2009), Verdens Helseorganisasjon

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