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Working on fitness

THERE’S no argument that physical fitness has many long-term benefits for individuals, but latest evidence points to positive effects in the workplace as well.

It seems fitter employees are more productive and loyal, are involved in fewer accidents and have fewer sick days.

Dr Darryl Turner witnesses first hand the effects of bad health at his practice, Joondalup Rehabilitation Health and Exercise Clinic. He said companies that are proactive about health would save money in the long term.

“A lot of what I see is physical condition and stress related,” Dr Turner said. “Physical activity can reduce that.

“It changes the neuro-transmitters in the brain so that you improve positive benefits and people don’t feel as lethargic and worn down.

“The main thing is to educate people – it’s a lifestyle change. But it’s a cost-effective way to reduce huge medical bills and reduce absenteeism.”

And it was the senior executives who were at an increased risk of injury.

“People end up with an injury before they decide to take charge of the issue,” Dr Turner said.

“For people 45-55 years of age there are two concerns. There is a degenerative process that is caused by ageing and then there is an acute injury, which gets mixed in and is a long-term problem.

“Someone who is 22 might be able to recover fairly quickly because they don’t have the degenerative component.”

Corporate Health Professionals programs manager Mark Mason said employers often won kudos from employees for initiating health promotion programs.

“Basically healthy people are less likely to be away from work and take the ‘mental-sickie’ … that idea that they cannot face work today,” he said.

“If an employer shows some care in the occupational health and safety areas they gain corporate kudos.”

Mr Mason said there was evidence to suggest Australians were becoming “less fit”, and that more corporations were beginning to address fitness issues.

“We are currently running workshops on healthy lifestyles that cover things like designing your own exercise program, nutrition advice, stress management and back care,” he said.

With this in mind, several companies in Perth are actively promoting health in the workplace by building in-house gymnasiums.

Aspire Fitness East Perth manages the gym at The Forrest Centre, Perth, and at Newspaper House in Herdsman.

Aspire Fitness East Perth managing director Derek Knox said the demand for workplace gyms or fitness programs had risen due to increasing job responsibilities.

“There are less people in the workforce but they’re working more hours. More and more companies are appreciating their staff and want to get the most out of them,” he said.

“Work is such a big issue in someone’s daily routine; we spend a third of our day there. The more convenient it is to exercise, the better it is. If you don’t have to worry about parking or picking the kids up first and organising yourself it becomes easier.

“We have programs at the gyms that are one-hour pro-grams. You can shower and change and get a good work-out during that time.”

The convenience of an in-house gym was top of mind for many Hatch employees when they moved from offices on St Georges Terrace to the new site in Stirling Street.

Hatch was the result of a BHP buy-out of Kaiser, with BHP and Kaiser employees working in CBD buildings that had gymnasiums.

Hatch infrastructure director Vance Mitsopoulos said having a gymnasium at the new building was an important issue for many staff members.

“The benefits of having the gym at work were pretty obvious and the employees see the benefit of having it in the building,” he said. “It’s convenient. You can go before or after work or during lunch.”

Mr Mitsopoulos said some of the employees who used the facility had increased their working hours, while there had been general increases in productivity and staff communication.

“From my own perspective it increases your productivity. The people I see in the gym have that extra spring in their step and are more energetic … it builds camaraderie,” he said.

“We have 600 employees here and at any one time there may be 400 on the premises.

“You may not communicate with many people during normal day-to-day working but you meet people in the gym and communicate with them.”

The Hatch gymnasium has a part-time gym instructor who takes circuit and aerobic classes, and the facility is open 24 hours, seven days a week.

Mr Mitsopolous said the company was talking with the gymnasium managers, LifeCare, to hold health talks with Hatch employees over the next few months.

The workplace gym is a good selling point, according to Blake Dawson Waldron managing partner John Carrington.

“It gets a lot of use and it’s attractive for a number of staff. We are flexible as to when and how someone uses it and it’s an asset for us,” he said. “It’s a selling point we use when recruiting people. There is the gym but also a swimming pool and tennis court.”

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