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Workplace physical activity promotion: why so many failures and few successes? The need for new thinking
  1. Andreas Holtermann1,2,
  2. Leon Straker3,4,
  3. I-Min Lee5,
  4. Emmanuel Stamatakis6,
  5. Allard J van der Beek7
  1. 1 National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Kobenhavn, Denmark
  2. 2 Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
  3. 3 Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  4. 4 School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  5. 5 Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  6. 6 Charles Perkins Centre, School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  7. 7 Department of Public and Occupational Health, Amsterdam UMC – VUMC Campus, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Professor Andreas Holtermann, National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Kobenhavn, Denmark; aho{at}

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Work has been a major determinant of adult physical activity throughout most of history. Yet public health initiatives and guidelines have traditionally focused on promoting physical activity during leisure time; the workplace has received limited attention.1

In this editorial, we: (1) argue why the workplace offers a great potential for promoting physical activity in working populations, (2) discuss reasons for the many failures, (3) share success stories and (4) suggest a new approach to unleash the great potential of workplace physical activity initiatives.

Why is the workplace suited to promote physical activity?

  • Work commonly occupies almost half of the waking hours of working-age adults; it provides a large ‘time-bank’.

  • The workplace can offer the structure, environment and social setting needed to sustainably improve physical activity.

  • Physical activity promotion at work can profit employers as it can improve productivity, reduce sickness absence and lower work disability-related costs.2

Why do so many workplace physical activity initiatives fail?

  • Even though workplace physical activity initiatives often use a participatory approach, …

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  • Twitter @profHoltermann, @Leon_Straker, @M_Stamatakis

  • Contributors AH wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors contributed to the content of the manuscript and accepted the submitted version of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.