In present-day society with its proliferation of various work styles, many companies and workplaces are faced with the important and complicated tasks of maintaining and promoting workers’ health. Amid this climate, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan on March 31, 2020, announced its revised “Guidelines for Total Health Promotion Plan for Workers in Workplaces.” This is a major revision of the original Total Health Promotion Plan (THP) that had been implemented up to that point. In the field of industrial/occupational health, physical activity and exercise are key topics addressed within the THP. This necessitates further study of physical fitness and sports medicine. In this study, based on societal trends and previous studies, we have reviewed the role of physical fitness and sports medicine research within the field of industrial/occupational health. We conclude it is important to clarify issues and objectives in each workplace and ways of concretizing plans to resolve and achieve them. Specific methods for doing so are diverse and indefinite, and creativity is required. Numerous options and types of tools should be created for applying outcomes on physical activity and exercise in accordance with the THP. Not only the viewpoint of avoiding risk, but also the viewpoints of accruing assets and taking a behavioral science approach toward continuing physical activity and exercise need to be considered. Research on these matters has not progressed sufficiently and we must advance a high volume of studies through various academic societies.
Health issues with workers include many aspects that scientific research in physical fitness and sports medicine can contribute to. Nevertheless, in Japan, there are few studies on the health problems in workers reported in the field of physical fitness and sports medicine. One reason could be the difficulty of obtaining cooperation in research from companies. This paper introduces results of epidemiological studies on health problems in workers by the Physical Fitness Research Institute. Our research serves as an example of physical fitness and sports medicine studies, including methods for securing fields for research. For the last decade, various epidemiological studies on worker’s mental health, sleep, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and labor related issues have been conducted in our research institute. Most of these studies indicated that lack of physical activity is associated with these indicators in Japanese workers. In recent years, we have also been conducting observational and interventional studies focusing on sedentary behavior in workers. Physical activity is deeply linked to worker’s health, therefore, the important approach to start a research in occupational health is to plan research that solves the company’s health challenges. In occupational health, the needs to promote physical activity and to reduce sitting time are growing under the movement of “Health and Productivity Management” and burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that current challenges provide an opportunity to advance physical fitness and sports medicine research in occupational health.
Although research on physical fitness science in Japan has developed along with occupational health issues, the role of researchers in this area has been reduced by technological advancements. Nowadays, the automation and mechanization of manual tasks have created new occupational problems. These new problems affecting workers, such as prolonged occupational sitting and a decline in cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), have been shown to increase the risk of several diseases (i.e., diabetes, obesity, heart diseases, and mortality), and further studies are needed to clarify this issue. Furthermore, in response to changes in the social structure due to the “low birthrate, aging society, and shrinking population”, a workforce with a different form than that from the postwar period is required. Therefore, the need to consider how we can avert this national crisis with the new role of researchers in the field of physical fitness science is once again drawing attention. In this article, we introduce the research being conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in Japan to meet the needs of “healthy and long working” and discuss this research in the context of future issues. Specifically, we introduce the development of a tool (the Worker’s Living Activity-time Questionnaire) to assess workers’ sitting time and epidemiological research using it. Finally, we describe the efforts to develop a new index for evaluating workers’ CRF and social implementation experiments to make the workplace a base for health promotion.
Evidence is growing on adverse health outcomes associated with less physical activity (PA) and more sedentary behavior (SB). As most workers generally spend approximately one-third of the day at work, measuring the amount of occupational PA/SB time would contribute to understanding the health risks of physical inactivity and SB among workers. In this review article, we describe the amount of time spent in different intensities of activity (moderate-to-vigorous PA [MVPA]; light PA [LPA]; and SB), on work and non-work days, while at work and outside working hours among workers. The review used objective measurements made by an accelerometer and showed the proportion of MVPA that office workers engaged in on work and non-work days accounted for 3-5% and 2-4% of accelerometer wear time, respectively. Moreover, office workers spent more time in SB and less time in LPA on work days than non-work days (SB, 66-76% vs. 60-69%; LPA, 20-28% vs. 23-36%). Especially on work days, office workers spent the greatest proportion of the day in SB during working hours (71-82%), compared with that outside working hours (63-67%). The proportion of MVPA accounted for 2-5% during working hours and 3-7% outside working hours. In addition, there were considerable differences in the proportions of LPA and SB between white-collar and blue-collar workers during working hours (SB, 73 vs. 55%; LPA; 22 vs. 40%), whereas the MVPA time was similar (5 vs. 5%). Some occupational exposure to unfavorable PA/SB at work might be unavoidable; however, inadequate PA/SB during working hours should be corrected.