Wake up and smell the inactivity: Help employees get moving

The newest edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans has been released. It’s full of vital information about:

  • Different types of activity such as aerobic, muscle strengthening, bone strengthening, balance and flexibility
  • The levels of intensity during physical activity

It also has updates including:

  • Evidence showing more health benefits to physical activity — including immediate effects
  • Tested strategies to promote physical activity

Along with the impressive amount of useful information, there’s one new guideline that I find especially exciting. And it’s not about what’s been added, it’s about what’s been removed. For instance, the “10-minute bout length requirement” has been tossed.

That’s big news in my book. Here’s what it can mean to you and your employees.

Every minute — and every movement — counts
A little more than 10 years ago, the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommended bouts, or episodes, of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for 10 minutes or more. There wasn’t enough evidence to support the value of episodes of physical activity for less than 10 minutes at a time. A lack of physical activity is linked to about $117 billion in annual health care costs.1 Stats like that led to the guideline that adults needed at least 10-minute episodes of physical activity.

Then the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, a Federal advisory committee made up of prestigious researchers, established new criteria. Based on their findings, the new guidelines state: Bouts of any length contribute to the health benefits associated with the accumulated volume of physical activity.2

I like the way Brett P. Giroir, assistant secretary for health at Health and Human Services, put it in one interview: “Sit less, move more. Whatever you do, it really all counts.”3

For employees who work in a cube, at a desk or hunkered over a computer, this could be everything. Say they learn that even standing up and stretching a couple of times a day can benefit their health and wellness. It’s not hard to imagine many of them saying, “Hey, I can at least do that!”

Yes, they can do that — and so much more. The question for you as an employer is, do they feel they have “permission” to do it?

Give employees permission to be active
I’ve been in many workplaces where employees feel they need to “sneak in” their workouts, even if it’s a simple walk for a brief time away from their desks. There’s the perception — or even more disheartening, the reality — that being away from the desk just to be physically active is verboten.

When the only thing that’s moving in an office is the race to pack in plenty of hours of desk time, then all that’s waiting at the finish line is poor health. The key to creating a culture of permission starts at the top. It forms a chain reaction leading to employees who feel free to literally take steps toward better health.

A wellness culture needs your vision — and a partner who has your back
You’re committed to creating a culture of wellness and casting a leadership shadow that gives employees permission to move. You even have a vision of what that could look like fully realized. Now all you need is a dedicated resource who can make that happen, and continuously supported continued engagement to drive your culture of health — a “wellness champion.”

An on-site wellness partner can consult with you as you figure out your choices. That means you could:

  • Start smaller with an on-site wellness professional. This professional helps lead activities within your current workspace and makes sure employees are safely getting physically active.
  • Take on a suite of services such as a fitness center, nutritionist and an entire continuum of services.

On-site wellness partners offer prevention strategies that engage employees in fueling, resting and moving their bodies. They become part of your team and help develop a health strategy that’s tailored to your company’s culture — whether that’s the culture you already have or the one you want to create.

I highly recommend that you check out the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. It could be just the wake-up call your employees need to move from inactivity to standing, stretching and walking more. Along with that, consider help from an on-site wellness partner. Together, they could provide a great blueprint to help shape your vision for a healthier, happier and more productive workplace.

To learn more, visit optum.com.


Grace DeSimone HeadshotGrace DeSimone
Grace DeSimone is the national group fitness director for Optum. Grace and her group fitness teams manage group exercise classes in worksite wellness programs across the country. She has served on the executive council of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Committee on Certification and Registry Board. Grace is the editor of ACSM’s Resource Manual for Group Exercise Instructors (LWW 2011). She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in dance and is certified by ACSM as a group exercise instructor and personal trainer.



1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Active People, Healthy Nation: Why this work is important. cdc.gov/physicalactivity/activepeoplehealthynation/this-work.html. Updated June 27, 2019. Accessed July 1, 2019.
2. HHS Office, Council on Sports. Physical activity guidelines for Americans. https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/be-active/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html. Published Feb. 1, 2019. Accessed July 1, 2019.
3. Bernstein L. New government guidelines say you can get your exercise in small doses. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/new-government-guidelines-say-you-can-get-your-exercise-in-small-doses/2018/11/11/3201d4c0-e5f8-11e8-bbdb-72fdbf9d4fed_story.html?utm_term=.c48a4a5ef4ba. Published Nov. 12, 2018. Accessed July 1, 2019.

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