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Workplace Counseling may Boost Physical Activity, Fitness

  [ 17 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • April 11, 2003

Individual counseling in the workplace shows promise for helping employees, especially those with poor health, to become more physically active and fit, suggests a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Researchers in the Netherlands provided 131 municipal employees written materials and seven individualized, 20-minute physical activity and nutrition counseling sessions tailored to the person's readiness for change. A comparison group of 168 employees received only the written materials. Before and after the nine-month program, the researchers used fitness and health tests, a questionnaire and interviews to measure each person's physical activity and fitness levels.

Employees who received both the written materials and one-on-one counseling increased their levels of vigorous physical activity during the nine-month study period. They also became more physically fit by improving their cardio-respiratory fitness and lowering their blood cholesterol and body fat levels.

Among employees receiving only the written materials, physical activity declined and heart rates increased -- possibly because much of the study took place during winter. As with the counseling group, the materials-only employees reduced their body fat and blood pressure levels, although the counseling group had greater declines in body fat.

Significantly, the investigators also found that the worse a person's baseline health profile, the greater the effect of the counseling program on body composition, blood pressure and blood cholesterol.

The materials and counseling sessions used in the study were based on the Patient-centered Assessment and Counseling for Exercise and Nutrition program. PACE is designed to motivate individuals to improve people's physical and eating behaviors by taking into account their actual behaviors and their intentions to change those behaviors.

Based on their findings and those of similar studies of PACE in the United States, the authors suggest use of workplace-based physical activity counseling programs to boost the proportion of employees who are physically active or fit.

"We recommend participation in physical activity counseling mainly for people with a less-favorable health profile," conclude Karin I. Proper, M.Sc., and colleagues at TNO Work & Employment in Hoofddorp and the Vrije Universiteit Medical Center in Amsterdam. "Even though persuading such individuals to participate in physical-activity interventions is difficult, such participation results in the largest health-related benefits compared to people with better health profiles."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 60 percent of American adults are not regularly physically active, and nearly half of American youth ages 12 to 21 are not vigorously active on a regular basis.

Even moderate physical activity, such as raking leaves or brisk walking, on most days of the week offers major health benefits, CDC experts say.

For example, modest, regular physical activity greatly lowers the risk of dying of coronary heart disease; decreases the risk of colon cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure; helps to control weight; and reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The study was published in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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