A feasibility study to introduce regular activity breaks in the workplace: monitoring the effect of regular activity breaks on occupational musculoskeletal discomfort, fatigue, and productivity
Background: Regularly interrupting sedentary behaviour with light physical activity has been shown to reduce postprandial glycaemia. However, these effects have been examined in response to a single day of light activity bouts in a controlled lab setting. The effects of long- term change in sitting behaviour, over weeks or months, on postprandial glucose and insulin metabolism in a free-living setting have not been examined. Testing this would require a trial in which participants achieve a sustained increase in light activity bouts over weeks to months in their workplace. However, interventions investigating the practicality and effects of taking regular activity breaks to reduce sedentary time are scarce. Objective: To conduct a feasibility trial to test the effectiveness of methods to increase regular activity breaks in a sedentary workplace. In addition, to investigate the impact of increasing activity breaks during the workday on musculoskeletal discomfort, fatigue, and productivity. Methods: Twelve University of Otago employees were encouraged to perform light activity breaks (at least 2 min in duration) every 30 min of their 8 h workday, throughout a five-week intervention period. Break reminder applications (apps) and social media (Instagram) were used to encourage participants to take the breaks. Modified versions of the Nordic, Individual Strength, and Health and Work Questionnaires were self administered to assess workplace musculoskeletal discomfort, fatigue, and productivity respectively, at the end of baseline, weeks 1, 3, and 5. Feasibility Questionnaires were verbally administered at baseline, weeks 3 and 5, to explore participant’s attitudes around taking regular activity breaks. Results: The mean number of activity breaks per workday significantly increased from 12.4 at baseline to 15.8 at the end of the intervention (p<0.001). The total number of musculoskeletal discomfort reports over the past five workdays decreased from 27 at baseline, to 21 at the end of week 5. Total fatigue significantly decreased by 9.6 points (p=0.010). Significantly lower scores were observed in two of the subscales of fatigue, depicting decreased subjective fatigue (p-0.010) and increased levels of physical activity (p=0.040) from baseline to week 5. Although no significant differences in total productivity were observed, mean scores showed significant improvements in the subscales; impatience and irritability (p=0.049), work satisfaction (p=0.038), and personal life satisfaction (p=0.008). Feasibility Questionnaire transcripts showed that using break reminder apps and having the support of colleagues was helpful in facilitating regular activity breaks. Barriers to taking regular breaks included: work commitments, feeling less productive, and others perceiving them to be less productive getting up to take activity breaks every 30 min. However, the majority of participants planned to continue the activity breaks following the interventions completion. Conclusion: These findings suggest positive trends in reducing musculoskeletal discomfort, fatigue, and increasing productivity following the introduction of regular activity breaks into the workplace. Therefore these are unlikely to be barriers to taking regular activity breaks in an occupational setting. Modified versions of the Nordic, Individual Strength, and Health and Work Questionnaires trialled in this study are considered to be suitable in assessing workplace musculoskeletal discomfort, fatigue, and productivity in a large-scale study.
Advisor: Perry, Tracy; Skeaff, Murray; Peddie, Meredith
Degree Name: Master of Dietetics
Degree Discipline: Human Nutrition
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: workplace; activity breaks; New Zealand; musculoskeletal discomfort; fatigue; productivity
Research Type: Thesis