How We Improved the Fitness of Ireland's Workforce

It was never going to be an easy task to get Ireland’s workforce out of their seats, away from the computer screens and moving. The aim was to increase their fitness levels in just six weeks. But it’s something that the Irish Life Health Workplace Fitness Challenge has achieved for the second year in a row.

Increased workloads and digital technology means we’re all working longer hours and sitting for too long as a result. Sadly, our health is suffering because of it.

New research by Irish Life Health shows that a shocking 71 per cent of Irish workers struggle to find time to exercise; over half of them are overweight; and 34 per cent suffer from high cholesterol because of their sedentary lifestyles.

Sitting for long periods of time leads, not only to aches and pains, but to a higher risk of muscular-skeletal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer, according to fitness expert, Professor Niall Moyna of DCU.

It was with this in mind that the Irish Life Health Workplace Fitness Challenge - a motivational fitness initiative aimed at helping Ireland’s workforce to get moving - was designed. Developed by Irish Life Health in partnership with Professor Niall Moyna and Dr Sarah Kelly, both from DCU, the challenge was designed to inspire workers to make simple, attainable adjustments to their working lifestyle, using the ‘Move your Met’ app.

The app measured employees MET (Metabolic Equivalent of Task) score at the beginning of the challenge and aimed to improve their MET score by 1 over the course of six weeks. Moving your MET score by 1 means reducing your risk of a cardiac incident by 15 per cent.

The challenge ran from May 22 to June 30 and over 200 companies around the country took part. One of those companies was PayPal, who won the Most Improved Large Company, and was led by Gym Services Manager, Suzanne O’Connell. She says the initiative was a great success with a total of 87 employees taking part. In total, the company moved their MET score by 1.4.

“My job is to encourage activity onsite in any way possible,” says Suzanne. “Everyone leads busy lives these days and I believe the majority of those working desk jobs are concerned about the impact it’s having on their health.”

Suzanne encouraged employees to get moving around the office whenever possible, while at the same time pointing out the benefits of exercising outside office hours. “I found the challenge easy to communicate and to manage. And the Move Your Met app appealed to a lot of employees as they could do it in their own time outside of working hours,” she says. In the workplace, she organised a weekly Move your Met group and took employees out jogging at lunchtime. “I also took individual teams for group walks,” she says. 

Overall, it was a great success. “Anyone who tried the challenge and stuck with it found their fitness levels improved. What’s more, they’re more aware of their fitness, how to measure it and the health benefits associated with being fit.”

Since the challenge ended, she says employees are using their breaks at work to go for a walk. “This may seem like a little thing, but in the long run it will have a big impact on their fitness. It’s all about changing habits and mindsets and being aware of the need to move as much as possible,” she says.  “I would encourage everyone to participate in next year’s challenge. Not only will it improve your fitness, and ultimately your health, it’s a lot of fun!”

Find out more about the Workplace Fitness Challenge here.