The potential impact of an office exercise/fitness program


Many of the more successful injury prevention programs at workplaces apply an integrative approach. Part of this integrative approach can involve the promotion of physical activity/fitness programs to reduce musculoskeletal disorder symptoms and promote recovery from injuries. A recent study completed in Portugal looks at the potential for targeted workplace fitness programs to reduce perceptions of pain among employees (Macedo et al., 2011).

Article review:

The authors note that a workplace fitness program can help to enhance health and work performance through reductions in sedentary lifestyle, improved fitness, improved stress control and improved social interaction. They also note that many workplace fitness programs can be done with minimal cost and require no special equipment. They wished to track a workplace fitness program among office workers at an enterprise in Portugal to determine if the program led to a reduction in employee reported musculoskeletal pain.

They tracked a total of 50 employees. 29 of these individuals voluntarily enrolled in the workplace fitness program, while the other 21 choose not to take part and were used as a control group. The fitness program and control participants completed a pain survey where they noted areas of their body where they experienced pain during, or related to, their work and rated that pain along a 100mm visual analog scale. Upper body sites were prevalent, particularly lower, mid and upper back regions. Participants of the fitness program completed 3 weekly sessions with the program’s activities being tailored to each individual’s reported areas of pain. Stretching, Pilates and general recreational activities were performed in each session.

The results indicated that after an 8 month period, no differences were found in intensity of pain in the various body regions among the control group; however, there were significant reductions in pain among the participants in the fitness program. The authors conclude that the program does provide significant benefit to employees with respect to reductions in reports of musculoskeletal pain. At the same time, they noted that only 60% of the employees at this company took part in the program. This level of participation does seem to be consistent with similar programs in other industries and the success among the participants should be commended. Additional work on how to promote and manage this program among employees is required.

EWI Works Comments:

This article certainly provides evidence to support the use of fitness/wellness programs as part of a company’s overall strategy to reduce musculoskeletal disorders and promote ergonomics. The authors should be commended on their ability to administer and track the effects of this program. In the future, perhaps more work could be done related to this program; for example, investigations on promotion models to get more individuals involved, identification of facilitators and barriers to participation and what level of sustainability is achieved with this program after a latency period.

Some additional information would also help to clarify the program. For example, more details on the prescribed exercises would be interesting. Also, were additional changes to workstations occurring at the same time the fitness program was being implemented? Might the program’s effectiveness be improved through additional ergonomics adaptations? Finally, a description of how employees and managers were involved in the development, design and implementation of the program would add to literature on participatory health and wellness programs.

What do you think? Do you have an office fitness program, or are you interested in starting one?


Macedo, A.C., Trindade, C.S., Brito, A.P., et al. (2011). On the effects of a workplace fitness program upon pain perception: A case study encompassing office workers in a Portuguese context. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 21 (2),  228-233