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Goldilocks answer of ‘just right’ for exercise at work, research finds

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Workplaces should incorporate physical activity into daily tasks in a bid to improve productivity, enable Australia’s ageing population to continue working and prevent some chronic diseases, new research led by Curtin University shows.

The paper, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, examined the ‘Goldilocks Principle’ or designing physical activity at work that promotes physical capacity and health deemed to be ‘just right’.

Lead author John Curtin Distinguished Professor Leon Straker, from the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University, said physical activity at work had traditionally been designed with the goal of being productive but not harming the worker.

However, Professor Straker said the research showed that workplaces should be aiming higher by encouraging a positive health impact from physical activity in the workplace, not simply aiming to have no negative impact.

“This research found that having ‘just right’ physical demands at work may improve productivity, enable people to maintain employment, continue paying taxes, prevent some chronic diseases and reduce treatment costs for chronic diseases,” Professor Straker said.

“For example, we know that standing all day at work is not good for physical health, but we also know that sitting all day is not good for physical health. Therefore, just like the porridge for Goldilocks in the famous fairy tale could have been too hot or too cold, we need to find the ‘just right’ amount of physical activity at work to promote health.

“This is an important finding when you consider many societies, including Australia, are facing an ageing population, and maintaining physical capacity as the workforce ages is critical to sustained productivity and standards of living.”

Professor Straker said it was important for both blue and white-collar workers that work was designed to promote physical activity and positive mental health.

“The ‘Goldilocks Principle’ offers a new model for work design, which can help address some of the major issues facing workplaces and societies today, including socioeconomic health inequities, the ageing population and our increasingly sedentary population,” Professor Straker said.

“It is likely that the ‘Goldilocks Principle’ could also be applied to mental demands and social conditions at work and therefore have a positive impact on both mental and physical health.”

The full paper, ‘The ‘Goldilocks Principle’: designing physical activity at work to be ‘just right’ for promoting health’, can be viewed here.

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