Taking Lifestyle Medicine to work

What do we spend about 90, 000 hours doing on average during our lifetime? More than 13 years consecutively or about 15% of our total lifetime? And for many of us, it currently occupies more than half of our waking hours? The answer is work.

Since work comprises an essential component of our everyday lives, it makes sense to work towards our workplaces becoming hubs of health. What we do at work matters and will impact on our health throughout our lifespan.

Lifestyle Medicine is about preventing, treating and reversing lifestyle related diseases through nutrition, physical activity, sleep, mental wellbeing and the avoidance of risky substances1. All these areas are influenced by our working environment for the improvement or to the detriment of our health.

Occupational Medicine is a specialist field, that is closely aligned to Lifestyle Medicine, but with the different focus of the effects of work on health and health on work2. Like Lifestyle Medicine, it is also concerned with prevention, causation, hazards and risks, and particularly risk mitigation due to work and industry. Prior to the twentieth century, work was seen as a means to provide the essentials in life – food and shelter and it wasn’t until half a century ago, that employee health and safety have gained importance.

More recently, research is informing employers that investing in employee wellbeing, not just meeting their health and safety legal obligations, is worthwhile. New Zealand Institute of Economic Research data cites that for every dollar employers invest in employee wellbeing, they receive on average eight dollars return! In some cases, a twelve dollar return3. In short, having a healthy workplace is good for business. This gain is through less employee absenteeism, presenteeism, (sick at work), and recruitment costs and greater productivity.

The principles of Lifestyle Medicine translate flawlessly to the worksite. It is a well established fact that working is central to human psychosocial wellbeing4 and being employed is associated with improved mental health and reduced socio-economic deprivation5.

Through administration controls, employers could mandate that their workers have the right balance of physical activity and rest, providing incentives for movement for a more sedentary workforce. One meta analysis of workplace physical activity interventions showed an improvement in a range of health outcomes including weight loss, lowered blood lipids and risk for diabetes as well as positive impacts on stress and work attendance6.

Employers can encourage improved nutritional choices. One local Hawkes Bay company of blue collar workers, provides free fruit to all their employees, have removed junk food vending machines from their worksite and have water coolers all over the worksite. Lunch orders are taken each day for healthier options such as sushi, as there are no food sale facilities on site.

Smoke free workplaces can be encouraged and many employers will provide access to smoking cessation support. Alcohol and drug screening is additionally a huge concern for many workplaces and a move to providing confidential Employee Assistance Programmes for proactive management of substance addiction, is seen to be beneficial for both the company and affected employee7.

For those of us who are employers, let us be aware of not only our legal Health and Safety obligations but also the means we have to encourage workplace wellness through the promotion of Lifestyle Medicine principles. We all stand to benefit.


This article has been written for the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine (ASLM) by the documented original author. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the ASLM or its Board.

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