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Reducing Workplace Fatigue with Low-Intensity Exercise

A cornerstone of any successful business is the concept that healthy, alert employees play a critical role in maintaining a standard of productivity and safety. When it comes down to it, lasting growth and success are truly dependent on individual wellness. Most companies have incorporated safety training into their monthly routine as a result of both state and federal regulations, which are in place to ensure these practices are being followed in order to prevent injury.

However, even the most comprehensive regulations do not adequately address the growing phenomenon of stress and fatigue experienced by today’s workers; a phenomenon that has real, measurable impact on performance– and ultimately, a company’s bottom line. Because fatigue becomes an obstacle to achieving this standard of safety, it should be identified as a hazard in the context of today’s industrial workplace.

The current state of the workforce: longer hours, more stress

The average American employee works for longer hours than most of western Europe and Japan, with each individual averaging 1,789 hours a year [4]. Today’s workers are also under a significantly greater amount of stress: on average, adults in all age groups collectively experienced more stress than they did over the previous year, although those currently aged 18-51 reported higher levels of stress than the Boomer and Mature generations [1].

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is best understood as a symptom of long-term stress. Although the term itself is often used to describe being ‘tired’, fatigue is a deceptively complex condition that is experienced in the form of extreme physical and mental exhaustion. When undergoing a stressful experience, the body is set to a state of alarm and eventually makes efforts to respond to the stressor. After a prolonged period of stress, the body’s physiological resources become depleted and fatigue begins to set in, the symptoms of which are manifested in two ways:

Physical exhaustion affects almost every main system of the body, the most noticeable of which include chronic muscle tension, an ongoing increase in heart rate and blood pressure, circulatory inflammation, and increased production of ‘stress hormones’ [8].

Psychological exhaustion is characterized by poor cognitive and executive function, symptoms of which include sleepiness, difficulty concentrating on tasks, and a lack of motivation.

The consequences of unchecked fatigue

Underestimating the risks of fatigue in the workplace may lead to serious consequences, the worst of which are occupational injuries or even fatalities. Just like chemical or physical hazards, fatigue is another unsafe condition in the workplace that needs to be managed.

A meta-analysis conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health revealed that longer hours were associated with higher rates of occupational injury, particularly with industrial and healthcare workers [2]. The data also revealed poorer cognitive performance with each hour of overtime, indicators of which included fatigue, decreased alertness, and deterioration of reasoning.

The most alarming effect accompanying fatigue was a decline in responsiveness when performing job tasks, a major risk factor for injuries and fatalities from work-related road traffic crashes [6]. Driver fatigue is responsible for over 100,000 police-reported crashes per year, which in turn have caused over 70,000 injuries and nearly $13 billion in monetary loss [3].

How the average worker copes with stress and fatigue

One-fifth of U.S. adults experience persistent fatigue [5].  Although about half of adults exercise or engage in intensive physical activity at least a few times a week, nearly 22% report they never do so [1]. In fact, most Americans deal with stress using sedentary coping strategies, such as watching TV, going online, playing video games, and eating.

The connection between fatigue and physical inactivity is best expressed as a cycle. On the one hand, stress and fatigue often cause working adults to neglect regular physical activity during their downtime; in 2015, 34% of adults indicated they skipped exercise or physical activity as a result of stress [1]. On the other hand, a lack of physical activity can cause workers to become more easily fatigued in response to stress.

Why low-intensity exercise helps in reducing workplace fatigue

Although reducing shift hours, adjusting start times, or scheduling in more breaks may help reduce worker fatigue, it would likely have a negative impact on general workplace productivity and is clearly an impractical solution for most businesses. The most effective solution to workplace fatigue lies not in removing stressors, but by introducing a coping strategy that has been proven to break the cycle of fatigue. Exercise– specifically low-intensity aerobic or strength training– has been proven to reduce fatigue and boost energy.

A University of Georgia study recruited volunteers who did not exercise regularly to engage in either low or high-intensity aerobic exercise three times a week for a period of six weeks, while the third group did not exercise at all [5]. In both exercising groups, fatigue was reduced by an average of 57%, in addition to a 20% increase in energy levels over the control group.

Surprisingly, low-intensity exercise was found to alleviate fatigue significantly more than moderate-intensity. Because participants were not used to regular exercise, higher-intensity exercise proved to be counterproductive by actually worsening symptoms of fatigue.

Implementing low-intensity exercise in the workplace

The effectiveness of low-intensity aerobic and strength training in the workplace is a core aspect of the injury prevention programs developed by BIOKINETIX. The Warm Up Programs consist of active, low-intensity warm-ups that can be completed by employees in a matter of minutes before starting their shift. Each warm-up is designed to incorporate movements that prepare workers for repetitive, physically demanding job tasks in an industrial environment, without the exhaustion or overstimulation of high-intensity exercise. Because the movements involved in warming up do not demand any sort of athletic prowess from participants, it presents a standard of accessibility to workers of any age.

Engaging employees in consistent low-intensity exercise is a proven way to break the cycle of fatigue and improve both individual well-being and group productivity. Even in the few states that have more extensive rest period requirements, compliance with industry regulations are often inadequate in addressing the risks of fatigue. With Warm Up Programs, BIOKINETIX provides a straightforward solution to workplace fatigue that maximizes both individual potential and company profitability.

 

Sources

1. American Psychological Association (2016). Stress in America: The impact of discrimination. Stress in America™ Survey.

2. Caruso, C. C., Ph.D., Hitchcock, E. M., Ph.D., Dick, R. B., Ph.D, Russo, J. M., Ph.D., & Schmidt, J. M., M.A. (2004). Overtime and Extended Work Shifts: Recent Findings on Illnesses, Injuries, and Health Behaviors (DHHS Publication No. 2004-143). Washington, D.C.: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

3. Lerman, S., Eskin, E., Flower, D., George, E., Gerson, B., & Hartenbaum, N. et al. (2012). Fatigue Risk Management in the Workplace. Journal Of Occupational And Environmental Medicine, 54(2), 231-258. DOI: 10.1097/jom.0b013e318247a3b0

4. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2016). Hours Worked: Average annual hours actually worked. OECD Employment and Labour Market Statistics (database). DOI: 10.1787/data-00303-en

5. Puetz, T. W., Flowers, S. S., & O’Connor, P. J. (2008). A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effect of Aerobic Exercise Training on Feelings of Energy and Fatigue in Sedentary Young Adults with Persistent Fatigue. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

6. Robb, G., Sultana, S., Ameratunga, S., & Jackson, R. (2008). A systematic review of epidemiological studies investigating risk factors for work-related road traffic crashes and injuries. Injury Prevention, 14(1), 51-58. DOI: 10.1136/ip.2007.016766

7. Rosa, R. R. (1995). Extended workshifts and excessive fatigue. Journal of Sleep Research, 4: 51–56. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.1995.tb00227.x

8. Stress effects on the body (2016). American Psychological Organization. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body.aspx

 

Jacqueline Victoria
Editorial Director at BIOKINETIX
Jacqueline studied Advertising at DePaul University and continued as lead editorial in the healthcare industry. She strives to produce thought-provoking articles and publications aimed at helping American businesses become more successful through modern occupational health practices and techniques.

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