Why was this study done?
Few studies have looked at the link between workplace facilities to promote exercise and actual overall exercise levels. Those that have been done—with promising results—have mostly focused on accessibility to a single type of facility (e.g. onsite gym). This is the first study to examine the link between combinations of facilities that are naturally available near or at work and off-hours exercise levels among workers.
How was the study done?
This study is based on the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), which Statistics Canada conducts every two years with a nationally representative sample of about 70,000 households. The survey collects data across a broad range of health topics, including physical and mental health and well-being, diseases and health conditions, health-care services, and lifestyle and social conditions.
In 2007-2008, the CCHS included questions in the survey asking people about their access at or near work to the following exercise-promoting facilities: a pleasant place to walk, jog, bike or rollerblade; a gym; sports fields; organized fitness classes; organized sports teams; showers or change rooms; and programs to improve health, fitness and nutrition. The research team then examined the link between access to these facilities and the amount of time respondents spent doing activities that could conceivably be linked to such facilities (i.e. time spent walking, running or working out would be examined, while time spent skiing or white-water rafting would not).
What did the researchers find?
The study found 76 per cent of respondents reported having access to at least one exercise-promoting facility near or at their work. Based on respondents’ answers to the other CCHS questions, the 24 per cent with little to no access to these facilities were more likely to be born outside of Canada, have a low education level, have a low income, hold a physically demanding job, work more than 40 hours a week and have poor physical and mental health. They were also less likely to select “white” as their cultural and racial background.
Workers with access to all the workplace facilities mentioned had the highest leisure-time exercise levels. They were twice as likely to exercise in their off-time as those with access to no facilities at all. Workers with access to a combination of a pleasant place to walk, showers/change rooms and programs to improve health had the second highest exercise levels. They were nearly 60 per cent more likely to exercise than those with no access at all.
Discussion of implications
A large proportion of Canadians have access to some combination of facilities that promote exercise near or at their work. Employers that wish to encourage physical activity levels among workers could take advantage of these facilities and promote greater access to them. However, attention should be paid to lack of access to these facilities among workers with low socioeconomic status, as they already face other barriers to getting adequate levels of exercise.
What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?
A strength of this study was its focus on real-world combinations of facilities near or at work. It also used an analytical method that helped improve the researchers’ ability to determine the strength of the association between facilities and exercise among a wide range of confounding factors (19 individual and occupational factors in total). A weakness of this study was its reliance on a cross-sectional survey, which precludes drawing conclusions about cause and effect. In addition, the survey provided self-reported data about levels of physical activity, which may be inflated. It also measured access to facilities, but not actual use of such facilities.