100 Day Step Challenge for Mental Health
Many employers offer wellness programs for their employees. A team of researchers in Australia wanted to explore the potential mental health benefits of a short-term workplace wellness program.
Their study involved nearly 2,000 participants in a 100-day, 10,000-step challenge program. The 10,000-step goal (daily) is roughly equal 1 ½ to 2 hours of walking, well above the World Health Organization recommendation for physical activity. They found a small, but consistent effect on several measures of mental health over the term of the program. The positive mental health effect appeared regardless of whether a person reached the 10,000-step goal.
Employers have a strong business case for working to improve the mental health of employees, many of whom spend half their time at work – often just sitting at a desk. The impact on employers of mental health problems of their workers includes not only direct costs for mental health care, but also substantial indirect costs. Extensive research has found that the majority of expenditures (typically over 70%) associated with mental illness and substance use disorders are in the indirect costs of employee absenteeism, presenteeism (when people are at work, but not fully productive), turnover, and training costs for replaced workers. Employees with depression, for example, cost employers an estimated $44 billion per year in lost productive time. More days of work loss and work impairment are caused by mental illness than by other chronic health conditions.
The Australian researchers, led by Karen T. Hallam, Ph.D., looked at the impact of the step program on psychological aspects of stress, anxiety, depression and well-being. They found improvement in all areas over the 100-day period, including a nearly 8% improvement in the level of depression symptoms, 9% improvement in stress levels, a 5% improvement in anxious symptoms, and a 2% improvement in overall well-being. The impacts were similar among women and men and among employees of all ages.
The study showed psychological well-being benefits regardless of the average number of steps completed over the program. The authors note that may be multiple factors beyond the specific physical activity that lead to the benefits. For example, enjoyment and connection from group participation, interpersonal support and friendship and networking. In addition, health promotion activities often lead to other health improvements, such as improved diet.
This study did not look at the lasting effects of the program. However, the authors note that a study of a similar step/walking program found long-term physical health benefits.
The study authors conclude that “10,000 step challenges may significantly and meaningfully improve mental health and well-being through simple and inexpensive workplace-based interventions.” “Notably, targets reached may be less important than participation itself,” the authors add.
10,000 Steps Program: https://www.10000steps.org.au/
50 Office Challenge Ideas Including Office Fitness Challenges from Well Steps https://www.wellsteps.com/blog/2018/02/22/office-challenge-ideas-office-fitness-challenges/
Hallam, KT, Bilsborough, S, de Courten, M. “Happy feet”: evaluating the benefits of a 100-day 10,000 step challenge on mental health and wellbeing. BMC Psychiatry. 2018, 18:19.