National and international evidence continues to support the positive benefits of a physically active lifestyle, and the underutilised opportunities that workplaces and technology provide to help individuals achieve that lifestyle. This positive and successful pilot project based at Blackpool Council, aimed to test the integration of two health and fitness technologies; the Workplace Challenge and the MyZone heart rate monitoring system, to improve the relevance and validity of the data captured within the Workplace Challenge site. The project also provided an opportunity for a number of partners motivated by similar and different priorities and challenges, to develop and deliver a wide ranging workplace physical activity project. The enthusiasm generated within partners involved in the project resulted in financial commitment only being required to purchase the MyZone heart rate monitor belts and the Loop at Work Table Tennis packages. This funding was allocated by Blackpool Council.
Blackpool as an area has a variety of prevalent health issues, and the council is faced with increasing financial pressures which inevitably affect staff health and wellbeing, and can be assessed by council sickness absence levels.
100 employees from Blackpool Council were recruited for the project, and allocated to 3 cohorts led by an instructor; inactive, infrequent exerciser and regular exerciser. Each recruited employee committed to being active with their MyZone belt for at least 60 minutes per week, and those that achieved this were gifted their belt at the end of the Challenge period. The participants recruited varied optimally in terms of demographics, although participants who were disabled or from a black and ethnic minority background were in the minority.
88 of the 100 recruited participants completed the 12 week Challenge, and those who did not complete were predominantly from the inactive cohort (8, 2 from the infrequent exerciser cohort, and 2 from the regular exerciser cohort). Naturally, the data collected from the MyZone system increases in volume from the inactive to the regular exerciser cohort, but average heart rates are similar throughout all 3 cohorts.
A variety of data collection methods were used to evaluate the project, and identify trends and outcomes. Significantly, physical activity levels were predominantly maintained or increased across all cohorts; there was a 21% increase in participants achieving the Chief Medical Officer guidelines of 150 minutes or more of physical activity on average per week, and 68% of the inactive and infrequent exerciser cohorts increased their physical activity levels over the 12 week Challenge period. Interestingly, 73% of the inactive cohort could be re-classified as infrequent or regular exercisers post Challenge due to increases in their physical activity levels. 19% of the infrequent exerciser cohort could be re-classified as regular exercisers, and 70% of that cohort maintained their activity levels. In the regular exerciser cohort, 86% of the group maintained their activity levels. On average across all cohorts, vigorous activity levels, moderate activity levels, walking completed and active travel increased.
A wide and varied range of activity types has been recorded by participants over the Challenge period, and this can be related to a number of on site council activities that were arranged as part of the project. Table Tennis was the most successful of these, and potentially the most sustainable. The general offer from Workplace Challenge and the activities delivered on site at Bickerstaffe Square in the established physical activity area, allowed employees not recruited to the Challenge to also take part in physical activity and sport. This, along with significant communications activity and senior management commitment, developed a positive atmosphere around the Challenge and wider activity opportunities for those not directly involved.
Health and well-being scores across the whole group of participants were incredibly mixed with significant increases and decreases on each element; general health, stress and coping at work, days off work, job satisfaction, team and individual morale. The internal sickness absence data paints a complicated picture of the current health of Challenge participants, with increases in sickness absence demonstrated during and in the 3 months after the Challenge had finished.
The BodiTrax data presents improvements in all elements across all cohorts on average. Reductions in Body Mass Index, body fat, weight, metabolic age, and visceral fat have been demonstrated pre and post Challenge alongside improvements in muscle mass. The most improved element was a reduction in visceral fat of 8% on average across the whole group. Anecdotally, it was also found that the BodiTrax analysis was particularly motivating for participants and in particular for the inactive cohort.
Post Challenge, 10 additional annual or monthly leisure memberships were purchased by Challenge participants, and 13 have continued to use the leisure facilities on a pay as you go basis. At 3 months post Challenge 39 participants were still using the Workplace Challenge system and their MyZone belts.
Challenge participants will be followed up at 6 and 12 months post project, which should include collating information about a number of small negative trends; post Challenge membership cancellations in the regular exerciser cohort, non-completers from all cohorts, and those from the infrequent and regular exerciser cohorts whose activity levels reduced over the Challenge period. In addition, the Pictures of Health project data and art installation, the health and well-being data, and the sickness absence data should be revisited and published at these points. It would also be pertinent to collect further qualitative data related to the use of the MyZone heart rate monitor belts, to further investigate whether these have positively or negatively affected physical activity levels and intensity levels.
Key improvement recommendations for programme delivery relate to the sustainability of on-site activities, reducing the amount of manual data analysis, developing the cohort instructor’s role, considering compatibility of technology, and the potential inclusion of a weight management and nutrition component to the programme.
In the immediate future, the project partners will complete the follow-up evaluation at 6 and 12 months and publish these findings, develop a costings package for the model, disseminate the learning in relevant networks, and consider the development of a second phase at Blackpool Council.
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