Pedalling the vision in a headwind of scepticism – ACTIVE TRAVEL

Active Travel – smart choice


Lets be honest the company car benefit was a desirable. Car travel the obvious choice to and from work and during work. The make and model of car a representation of your success in life. Think BMW, Audi and then Mondeo man. In truth the car was a status symbol in the office car park.
It also represented the ‘default’ choice of transport. Turning the key is as instinctive as putting one foot in front of the other. I still see my neighbour drive the car 0.3km to the start of the trans Pennine trail to take the dog for a walk. An example of how we have rewired the way we move. We now label physical activity that is used to get us around our daily lives as ‘active travel’.
In business meetings I still come across scepticism towards active travel. You see, mention the bike as a viable form of getting around falls on deaf ears a lot of times. Facility teams, management and people who may support the idea but think themselves an exception from the rule.

Responsible business – too right. Employer brand is vital right now. Employees want to associate their own values with sustainable business models.
The barriers to cycling. Sometimes cycling is seen as a form of transport for ‘fitties’ or ‘extreme’ active people. It takes the option away from the people we want to nudge toward these behaviours. Walking it seems is too slow in a fast paced world. Even more so to do it. Hit the ‘slow motion’ button to regroup, refresh and take heed of your surroundings to switch off.

I personally feel if you change the active travel conversation to a ‘us’ and ‘them’ argument you have lost the ability to nudge people into considering active travel. Cars vs cyclists. Yes there are good drivers, bad drivers and equally the same categories in cyclists. We have built gyms to exercise. An add on to a busy daily schedule. They are useful no doubt.
However integrating that lost art of regular moving in the day at work, home and leisure is the big ticket item when looking at population health and the levers to achieve public health objectives.
Active travel is one way to help move toward these objectives. As it is attached to something we have to do it is more likely to form a habit. It gives exercise another purpose other than to be more physically active. It presents an opportunity for our Health leaders to exploit.
We accept that the M1, A1 and M62 get congested. It winds us up. Our excuse for bus/train usage is around cancellations and unreliability. Yet we accept delays due to congestion. Yes public transport could be improved.

However compared to a car driver for example, walking and cycling for transport is associated with 11% lower risk of all-cause mortality,4 an 11% reduction in cardiovascular risk1 and lower adiposity. *7
Then there is the impact of car use on our communities. Unlike power stations cars thread through the arteries of our neighbourhoods spilling out contaminated air directly along our streets.

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They influence our evolutionary ability to move self propelled (walking, cycling, scootering whatever that is) by changing our habits. Convenience. Although I would argue against that. Perceived convenience. Check these average speeds in UK Cities.


Considering the average speed on a bike for an unseasoned cyclist is 10-12mph *8, you are in front of every car in all the cities listed above. Of course add hills, weather and other determinants this could reduce but you are going to equal the car at the minimum.
It is about accepting the reality.

Our economy relies on energy for pretty much everything we do. Business, economy, house energy, transporting around and sustaining human life (food production etc). I am not asking people to live in caves. But we need to eek out those parts of our lives where we can make more sustainable changes.

So teething out where changes can be made from the above list where do we start? Remember small changes make a big difference. Accumulative small changes made on a population level even more so. It takes a cultural movement. A bit like the war on plastic we are seeing at present that is shifting attitudes and behaviours. I mean who wants to see baby whales been poisoned by its mother contaminated milk – attributable to plastic in our oceans. An awful reality.

Equally who wants to see to the unborn baby been effected by air pollution as the expectant mother walks around congested areas or indeed the polluted air that gets into our cars too. That is the reality.


Because we can’t see the effects of physical inactivity on major body systems (apart from obesity obviously) and air pollution is this invisible force that we ignore we carry on our lives in an unsustainable way.


I see it as a little game to find the parts of my life where active travel (that’s moving around my daily business with my legs -cycle; walk, public transport) can be integrated into work and personal duties. To do so I come up with some resistance from my family. But slowly my habits are filtering down. It takes one person to change to effect others.

Yes technology can play a part in solutions. But we sometimes look for sophisticated solutions to meet sophisticated problems. In reality there are some simple solutions to meet sophisticated problems. Walking more and moving more play a key part in shifting are reliance on inefficient and dirty energy systems as transport.

There is another big reason Government wants to shift away a reliance on cars that exists in society. In 2015/16, 26% of adults were classified as inactive (fewer than 30 minutes physical activity a week). *3

Indeed more than 5 million deaths worldwide are attributed to physical inactivity. In the UK alone it causes one in ten premature deaths from coronary heart disease, and one in six deaths overall. Evidence shows keeping physically active can reduce the risk of heart and circulatory disease by as much as 35% and risk of early death by as much as 30% *4


From an employers point of view why does this matter? This inactivity doesn’t just put a strain on our health either: in England, the cost of this inactivity is estimated to be around £8.2bn a year. This is made up of the cost of treatment for lifestyle-related illnesses along with indirect costs caused by sick leave. *5

So when it comes down to that individual responsibility how can we change the way we live our lives? Well first of all asking people to give up their cars is, in my opinion, unrealistic. I personally think a world with far fewer cars would be a better world but accept it is part of a multi-modal transport mix. But a choice relegated down to at least 3rd choice.

A world where collective responsibility fosters a greater desire to change. A responsibility that shifts attitudes on how we go about and conduct our lives and to be more conscious of how we consume energy that impacts on the environment and our health.

But to achieve this the narrative needs to change. The active travel brigade aren’t the lycra gang. Active travel encompasses all shapes, sizes, gender and race – the ultimate goal is for active travel to become the ‘default’ choice to take when travelling.
In urban areas signage including times to destination (especially walking) encourage uptake rather than distance (that to many people doesn’t mean anything). Stick an average calorie burn on there too for good measure.
This is where behavioural change comes in. The study of human behaviour and habits that gives us insight into how we can modify these behaviours using ‘nudges’ and removing barriers to certain activities. According to the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 66 days to form a new habit.



It is that habitual routine that needs to change. Get out of bed, coffee, step out onto the drive, sit in the car, get the kids to school, go to work and sit at the desk, sit in the café or at the desk with lunch and reverse order back home. Kids to bed, tv on and some peace and quiet.

There isn’t much wrong with that. But there is a vital part in the day missing. Movement. And with busy lives, touch screen bringing shopping to our homes, operating major house systems, business impacting on sleep physical activity moves further down the list.

Technology is amazing. But tends to squeeze physical activity even further down the list of priorities. People in the UK are around 20% less active now than in the 1960s. If current trends continue, we will be 35% less active by 2030.


We are the first generation to need to make a conscious decision to build physical activity into our daily lives. Fewer of us have manual jobs. Technology dominates at home and at work, the 2 places where we spend most of our time. Societal changes have designed physical activity out of our lives – its time to hardwire physical activity back into our world order.

*3 Accessed 27.07.2019

*4 Accessed 27.07.2019

*5 Accessed 27.07.2019

*6 Accessed 27.07.2019



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Twitter @AJPConsultant

What’s the solution for Air Pollution – your contribution


There is no smoke without fire.


Pollution is seen as an inevitable consequence of growth, modernized economies and improved living standards (desirability for luxuries; cars, energy consuming products and so forth).
You see the air we breathe is taken for granted. You can’t see it but it is an obvious life sustaining gas. We accept air deep into our bodies (think food, water etc) and the heart instinctively pumps it around every part of our body. Air pollution – What it does to our bodies. *1# Would you eat poisoned food or contaminated water? Nope.

I ask. Have you ever been sat in traffic and just tasted the air you are breathing, or walked alongside a busy road alongside standing traffic? Live next to a main road and concerned – you should be.
Humans often come up with reactive measures. Electric cars for example, great idea with some flaws. Energy to produce the car in the first place. Weight of the car impacting on other air pollutant particles from brakes and tyres. Travelling up hills consuming lots more energy to power. Tyre contact with the road and air pollutants. *2 – it has a role to play but has drawbacks.  We can’t always engineer ourselves out of a hole without tackling the root cause.



Then there are the other health consequences of car usage, or should that be overuse. We stay sat down for 9 hours plus a day the only moving about a lot of us do from using the toilet and walking down the drive to the car. A lot of our work-lives are desk based. Whatever your viewpoint on physical activity we simply don’t do enough. We essentially don’t do what the body was designed to do – move, helping to stave off or reduce chances of a plethora of health conditions linked to inactivity.

It’s interesting to see how large-scale behavior change programs have fared in the past. Most recently the war on plastic has snowballed due to multiple factors. The Blue Planet documentary and sky news coverage combined with a credible figure Sir David Attenborough narrating the visible damage to the World’s oceans seen due to plastic. Powerful.

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The unforgettable images of marine life maimed by our collective consumption of plastic and marine young feeding on poisoned milk that inevitably killed them. Watching that who wouldn’t feel a level of guilt. Looking around your house and seeing the plastic products and questioning your use of them.


However, what about this image – invoke any concerns?

Business quickly responded to the trend for reducing plastic with their own ethical and social marketing strategies. Riding the crest of a wave of public opinion. A strong message that consuming our products will limit damage to ecosystems and animal life.

. Public opinion can and does mould system change.
As a business miss that narrative and you risk serious consequences of losing your target market. Business seeking investment:  suddenly investors request information on your CSR and environmental impact. Bidding for tenders and you are asked way more than just your ability to deliver a contract. Employee welfare, wellbeing, environment policies community work and so on.

However, the car is much more embedded into our lives. It offers convenience (questionable), personalized journeys (that’s true to a point), load capacity (a lot more difficult to transport without a motorized car). Then there is desirability. A new car is a statement. A mobile symbol of success years gone by. Has that changed? I still know people who will drive 500 meters, nothing to carry just habit. Then spend the rest of the time trying to park.

The bus user, cyclist and walker. I don’t want to say this but let’s be honest. If you used this form of transport you were seen as a bit of failure in life not long ago (maybe in some quarters of society still true). Didn’t have a driving license? There must be a reason why you catch the bus/train or walk – why wouldn’t you have a car? It didn’t make sense not to have a car.

It is changing. I see quite a lot of people me included with formal business wear with trainers on at the train station – change of shoes in the rucksack. Statement? Absolutely.
I question every journey I make. Is it necessary? Of course, work and family commitments absolutely.

My second question is how I get there – what are the options. Do I need to be there for work (skype etc). Sometimes you need face to face its personable and bodes well for business so travel sustainably. Some jobs vehicles are necessary. Realistic.
Where I live I have train, bus and active travel routes – I think nothing of jumping on my bike and cycling the 20-mile round trip, or even 50 mile round trip to coach run groups on an evening or my day job. Of course the big impact comes from small changes (few miles cycle route etc). Not all of us live in areas well connected with public transport – granted. Lots of us live in Cities and large towns, do we carry more responsibility to use the car less than those with less public transport options – absolutely.

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The cycle / walk network. Lots of us have lost the art of navigation. We don’t know our areas too well. When I coach run groups on an evening, I barely have to take people half a mile from where they live and they are lost. We follow sat navs and road signs as the arteries of our towns. We disconnect from the environment (think mindfulness and mental health).
When I take run, walk or cycle groups out people are usually surprised to see the countryside and tranquility of what is on their doorstep. How different viewpoints make even your local area look so different than from a roadside. Connected to nature.
The Trans pennine trail is a great example of this, a network I use to navigate the 25 miles from Doncaster to Sheffield via Barnsley to work. It splits off and connects other villages and urban areas (Wentworth, Wombwell, Harley etc.) and connects to the Tinsley canal for the last leg to Sheffield City Centre – a wonderful green route.


Journeys into town. I live 2 miles from town. I walk with family there and choose a slightly longer green route (hedges and greenery offer a screen and sponge to reduce the impact of bad air) *3.

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I do a job on a weekend (once a every 2 months) where I carry a lot of equipment with a trailer – I share the vehicle with people who work for me. I set off early when the traffic is light and the fuel I am using keeps me moving not stood still pumping pollutants out. However 80% of my journeys are without the car – including weekends now.
I use the bus from Barnsley To Doncaster a lot. The facilities on board are much improved from your last journey (I know people that haven’t been on a bus for 20 years). WIFI (do business on the move), card payments and bus lanes speed up progress into urban areas. Yes buses do contribute to air pollution but if 50 seats were filled, and that bus is running anyway – can you leave the car at home?


Sheffield Stagecoach – plush interior / WIFI and enhanced onboard facilities / extra legroom and efficient engines.

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New Trans pennine express due in operation shortly.

I am saying we have to be more resourceful with what we have. Change the way we do things. Think and form new habits. The way we get around is key to this. Drive to the gym? Walk/cycle/run combine bus/train and integrate that exercise into your day – saves time in the long run.
The air we breathe is an amazing resource in itself. Just because we can’t see pollution (unless its that image of a smog) like we can plastic and we don’t have marine animals on television suffering from the consequences doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take it seriously. It is a public health risk and priority.


We should be concerned. Air pollution particles creep into our homes. Air is everywhere – we rely on it live. Stating the obvious here. Question your own journey. Note that if you made some changes and minimized (not got rid of) the car it would help on mass. Next stage do you need a car? Small changes big impact.

The cost of a car is enough to make your eyes water. How much better would the streets look without the cluttering of vehicles. How much more enjoyable would streets be to socialize and play? Once you change a part of your life it really does become easier and you see a different perspective.
So rather than an attack on car drivers – this is not – it is a plea to just question parts of your lives where car use can be minimized. Embracing different ways of working (mix office / remote working), work commutes by alternative modes, family travel – what are the other options?

To conclude could we see the air pollution been the next plastic. Cars been the next plastic bag. Who knows but one thing is for sure we cannot carry on or sustain our demand for energy the way we do right now – reflected in the latest climate reports and links to emissions and Global temperature rise.


Accessed 21.05.2019 – emissions impact on health –
*1 Accessed 21.05.2019 – which particles what damage to health from transport
*2 Accessed 20.5.2019 – brake and tyre emissions report
*3 Accessed 20.5.2019 – Hedges as a screen for pollutants
Picture reference


Andrew Picken

Health and wellbeing consultant

Marketing and workplace health – a marriage made in branding

What does marketing and Health and wellbeing have in common?


As a public health and wellbeing (H & W) specialist with over 15 years in public health and workplace wellbeing roles why my interest in marketing? Well it is quite simple really. Both functions are in effect ‘selling’ something. Both use levers to influence ‘buy in’ from target markets. Both look at behaviour change principles.

Fig 1 – Com B Behavioural change model in public healthCOM-B


In health and wellbeing circles I may term selling as ‘engagement’, in marketing terms it may be ‘leads or selling’. Marketing looks at USP’s and the psychology of buying – what makes us tick. That is interesting. How can Public Health / Workplace health programmes tap into the way people think and try to ‘nudge’ healthier habits?

H&W seeks the same objective in a none commercial sense but has a rather hard time trying to sell an ‘intangible’ – a vision in effect. For example ‘you engage in this consistent behaviour (for example 10,000 steps a day) and you will reduce the chances of X,Y and Z health condition by X % 10 years down the line’. What does that mean to someone in the present?

The problem with this is the selling of a vision. When it comes to H&W, long term vision doesn’t give people instant satisfaction as is achieved when, for example, a new i-phone or car is purchased. People like instant benefit. Being part of a H&W brand or an association with a ‘brand’ that aligns with their values and social standing is one way we can hit some sort of instant satisfaction.

On the plus side H&W is a very personal issue to approach and therefore interest in one’s health is almost an endorsement of genuine care and responsibility to help people achieve that positive health outcome. A brand for a campaign (thing the NHS’s change 4 life) or an internal workplace H&W programme is key in my experience.

H&W maybe shrouded by evidence base, hard stats and behavioural science (but that is for professionals like myself to know, it may be boring for the target audience – not always but mostly). On the outset a H&W brand needs to be fun, social, engaging and highlighting benefits to being involved not necessary features. I expand on this later in the article.

In a workplace H&W programme creating this feeling of care through wanting to support employees health can invoke feelings of value, aid employee retention and recruitment, reciprocate good performance from employees feeling privileged to work for a caring company with lots of benefits.


In essence a H&W brand is creating a USP for the Employer to set itself apart from competitors and other recruiters battling for the best talent. See where I am going with this? Not only does H&W offer improved individual health outcomes but can also be plugged right into hard business objectives.

So the articulation and narrative to ‘sell’ H&W can learn from the some of the ethical tactics marketers deploy around brand identity, social proof, relevancy and reciprocation. For a successful H&W campaign who is the audience, what are the barriers and what is the USP?  – all legitimate questions.

The same principle can be applied with getting ‘board engagement’ in investing in a H&W programme, a focus on more hard business benefits than features.

Marketing offers some great insights here. For example when selling a product avoid descriptions on features but focus on the benefits to buying it, or investing in it.

Marketing doughnut offer a great example here ‘A feature is simply a characteristic of your product or service, such as a kettle with a 2000-watt heating ring,” explains Guy Aston, SME director at sales training company Huthwaite International.

“A feature should offer benefits – a true solution to a specific need,” he continues. “In this case, the kettle can boil water in less than 60 seconds. So if a cafe owner can’t make tea fast enough, you need to tell them your rapid-boiling kettle will solve their need.”

For H&W and public health programmes this raises the following question. What solution are we offering for a specific need? Of course weight loss is a good one to target, but the solution needs benefits.



For example a consistent approaching to moving more will result in weight loss (accumulating effects). Or is the ‘real’ benefit to the individual that beach body? Is that the motivation – if so the narrative needs to tap into that.

Another example, “climbing the stairs everyday at work over the course of a year is the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest 5 times”! That may appeal to some people.

Focusing on the larger benefit is a better approach for highlighting a sense of achievement rather than let’s say ‘3 flights of stairs burns 12 calories’. Such a small benefit is likely to reinforce the notion to the person of ‘what’s the point’.


Word Cloud Social Marketing
Word Cloud with Social Marketing related tags

Public Health England (an important benefit for health commissioners) said “  brisk walking 10 minutes a day equals” (3)

increased physical fitness

  • greater ease of performance of everyday physical activities
  • improved mood
  • improved quality of life
  • increased body leanness and healthier weight
  • 15% reduction in risk of early death

This is a good example of describing population benefits that will resonate with public health commissioners in getting them to commit to, and fund specific projects and campaigns around increasing activity levels everyday to 10 minutes. Audience specific you see.


Another benefit over feature example – when looking at trying to encourage more people to walk or cycle short journeys instead of the car in urban areas consider time as the ‘sell’.

I was involved in a project where we changed street signs from distances to local amenities to time for walking or cycling in minutes. That was an instant benefit to someone as it was often quicker to walk or cycle considering a cars average speed is 5-9mph in UK cities (add parking / cost significantly more time).

Another example is around the UK Chief Medical Officer guidelines on recommended physical activity levels. Time bound – 30 minutes moderate x 5 times a week. Then the play on time. So x 3 lots of 10 minute exercise bouts at a higher intensity (adding up to the 30 minutes) meets the recommendation. Much more realistic to folk when shorter in time. And can be spread out throughout the day.

Then there is social proof.  The tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it normally works quite well. As a rule we will make fewer mistakes by acting in accord with social evidence than contrary to it. Usually when a lot of people are doing something, it is the right thing to do.


Take the big trend on mental health in the workplace and the introduction of mental health (MH) first aiders as one proactive approach to supporting an environment conducive to listening and support around MH issues.

A huge swathe of companies are doing it and so it has created a sector movement with more employers embracing the agenda. An example of Social proof in action impacting on a sector not only an individual level.

I can offer examples around my H&W programmes where certain employees have embraced a change around exercise, who previously were quite anti-exercise. By using gentle ‘nudges’ and creating an environment where physical activity was an easy choice (through varied opportunities and communication) that person has changed their habits.

Those around that person (especially quite influential peers) are more likely to conform and adopt some of those behaviours (for example lunch time walks or using the stairs over the lift). This may then lead onto active commutes, walking meetings etc. Of course a policy environment that facilitates this and Board level encouragement are both key (a different article may be) to cause this effect to take place.



Another look at decisions people take are around commitment and consistency (1)  A great example. Below. “Two Canadian Psychologists uncovered something fascinating about people at the race track:  Just after placing a bet, they are much more confident of their horse’s chances of winning than they are immediately before laying down the bet”.

Of course nothing about the horses chances have changed, same horse, track in the same field; this relates to our desire consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with the commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.

So some of the Health and wellbeing levers to ‘nudge’ people into better habits consistent with improving health outcomes might be pledges. Pledges were used in stop smoking campaigns – an example in Beeston, Leeds using promises of smoke free homes (SFH) where pledges increased SFH from 35 % to 68% and 90% of people said they were keeping to their promises 3 months after (2).

It could be suggested that using a health pledge has some degree of influence on encouraging commitment to a goal and falling into the theory above. A pledge to walk more maybe or achieve the 30 minutes physical activity recommendations 5 days a week.


One thing that remains intrinsically linked between health and marketing is the focus on people and behaviours. The difference is the ‘commercial’ approach of marketing and the more ‘social’ approach of H&W. H&W approaches and public health can learn a lot.

It also gives clear opportunities for both functions to work alongside each other in a business setting for mutual benefits. That is the value of H&W to lever a Business brand into different networks and audiences that could lead to more business leads.

And for H&W using the expertise of marketing to develop internal branding for Workplace H&W programmes that help to engage and influence people. A programme that people want to be associated with – creating an instant recognition of being involved in it.

The more H&W programmes tap into other business functions the more traction it has.


And remember if there is one thing all marketers can agree on –  human interest stories (that H&W is a catalyst for) gives a carousel of content and powerful marketing collateral (case studies / images) around employee activities – boosting Employer brand and investor relations linked to Corporate social responsibility objectives.

I have only skimmed the surface of a huge topic area drawing parallels with the behaviour change of both functions and how both can work together for multiple benefits spanning business and social objectives. See my other articles on the link with pay & benefit, Employer brand and HR.

Andrew Picken

Member of Royal Society for Public Health

Copyright AJP Health Consultancy



(1) Cialdini, RB (2007) “ Influence the Psychology of persuasion.”


(2) Accessed Online:  11.3.2019

(3) Accessed Online: 11/3/2019

Brand on Heart: Health and Wellbeing in the Boardroom.


Re-modelling the employee experience. From on-boarding, induction, culture – health and wellbeing (H&W) can be one of the tools to help achieve business aims by creating positive employee experience journeys. Why does this carry WEIGHT in the boardroom?

The employee experience is a key driver in enhancing brand and reinforcing business values. At a business to business level it is a way to create a customer facing brand that in normal business operation wouldn’t exist.

I am writing this short article to pin point specific business advantages of investing in Health and wellbeing beyond reducing the impact of absenteeism, specific ROI and long term cost savings. Those figures are available and hard facts. But the indirect benefits of H&W are sometimes missed by Public Health professionals.

Meeting of shareholders

The sorts of things that make the ears prick up of the Board when Health and wellbeing is spoken about in a specific business context have to be relevant to the strategic objectives of that organisation. Linking H&W with overall business strategy is the most vital thing you can do.

Health and wellbeing approaches fall short when they are approached with a one size fits all approach. To be truly inclusive an approach needs to define its audience and pick out the relevant ‘touch points’ that will engage people. This goes for the boardroom too.

Now this could be at an employee level (behaviour change led initiatives – time to talk, encouraging physical activity), influencing culture change through small nudges to change employee behaviour, or at board level.

The diversity of H&W means it can be tailored to suit different contexts and audiences. In truth H&W is relevant to everyone. But in a business context here are some key points to think about when trying to achieve buy in from the Board using nudges and relevancy;


  1. Business strategy. What is the business seeking to achieve (increased sales, expanding into new markets, recruitment drive? To create ‘relevancy make sure a H&W Business case ties in with this. How does it support sales increases? What are the links with the proodcut/service?


  1. Brand value / Mission statement. Sometimes this is harder to pin point but H&W will always have a link. Articulate this. A vision is often a good way to find the link.


  1. Competitive recruitment markets. The power of social media and voice in attracting the best talent, and retaining talent using pay and benefits, employer brand and working policies conducive to health and wellbeing. Employees are the number one asset to any business. Highlight this.


  1. Know your personalities. What characters have you on the board? What are their interests outside and inside of work? Again remain relevant to their values and key interests.


  1. The value of been seen to be doing ‘good’. As a business a positive and forward thinking Organisations with a reputation around valuing their staff can quickly form place based networks in none traditional markets, opening up new business opportunities for future growth.


  1. Becoming a voice and champion on Health and Wellbeing. Another great way to add visibility to overall brand exposure. Carving out an expert voice in learning from what works and doesn’t in successful H&W approaches will do wonders for opening up new networks and opportunities.


  1. H&W activity should extend to offer opportunities outside of work through events with a fun / social theme. To maximise these events extend this to include family and friends of the employee. Who doesn’t like to have a free opportunity to give someone else for a company they work for? Powerful.


  1. Most organisations are always seeking ways to improve collaboration, communication and performance. H&W strands every one of these key business metrics. Use them to bolster the H&W proposition.


  1. Link the H&W strategy to wider CSR objectives. Be connected to your local and regional public health & community network to find out about the plethora of activity already going you can link in to. Often for free.


Human Resources as a department and role is a rapidly changing business function stretched across a wide remit aside from its everyday core operating tasks; employee engagement, employee disputes, health and wellbeing, pay and benefits and so on. H&W can contribute to many of these extra tasks.


There are no doubts that modern working environments have improved drastically from those of previous eras. Coming from a former mining town,  generations of my family spent times underground working in conditions that would be unthinkable right now.

In today’s world our working environments are much better. Technology has made communication easier and improved business functions from efficiency, speed even creating new markets for business to service and innovate.

But the core, meaningful and purposeful values still exist for employees that some of these advancements have impacted on, in my view negatively.

Communication. Social media, instant messaging and email are amazing tools. In some ways my job relies on it. For the younger generation there is a push to provide opportunities for re-establishing those meaningful social interactions in real time. Technology can sometimes serve as a distraction.

In business taking time to visit your colleague in person should be encouraged. Connecting the H&W activity to this agenda – collective groups completing an activity together whether that be exercise in whatever form, shared interest or a conversation. All these opportunities are a way to nudge these behaviours. As a species we rely on social connection.

The old working men’s clubs or social clubs of time gone by; a place people congregated together outside of work coming together to dance, have some drinks all helped to forge a sense of community. The corporate outings that include families are hugely powerful at connecting people. To some extent we have lost this.


Examples of some of my H&W activities have been weekend shorter and longer walks for families, free bouncing sessions and trampoline parks for employees, family and friends, learning to dragon boat and so forth. Activities based around fun.

I could easily write 10,000 words on H&W as it is such a huge area with many different strands which can very easily go off topic. So to round – up and conclude I would like to reiterate the following points in articulating H&W strategy buy in at Board / Director Level with what I have discussed;

  1. Relevancy
  2. Link to business product or service
  3. Brand visibility
  4. Marketing strategy
  5. Content and human interest stories
  6. HR / Recruitment strategy
  7. Creating a voice beyond traditional business network.


Andrew Picken

Member of Royal Society for Public Health

Active Travel the realities vs the vision

Active Travel the realities vs the vision

February 2019


At one time cycling was never ever an option as a feasible mode of transport. Especially in business. Slow, unsafe and a lack of carrying capacity. Let’s not forget ‘sweating’, lycra and not been able to get on public transport with bikes should you need to.

And if you turned up on a bike at work you got some odd looks and were labelled that ‘eco warrior’ type. That was 20 years ago when I first started commuting by bike in Wakefield working as a mechanic. A job involving cars, amongst colleagues cycling to work was just radical!

In business I use multi-mode transport options full 40 mile work commutes (on a mountain bike in winter / road bike in summer ) and a highly versatile fold up bike for shorter commutes (Urban journeys) mixed with public transport gives me easy regional spread and National access.

Bear in mind these bikes are my choice you need not spend a lot, and if your employer has the cycle to work scheme use that for more savings if you can.

So what is the reaction now when I rock up with a bike? Very different. I purposely use the fold up bike as a prop as it can go in meetings with me and workplaces I visit and is a powerful statement.

I don’t always wear lycra or top end bike clothing I purposely wear business attire where I can. This proves you can do business whilst riding a bike.

You now find people naturally gravitate to you. Intrigue brings them to ask where you have come from, the bike, the distance you have come etc. People are interested, generally. At business networking events it can get you over that hurdle of speaking to new people.

I recently visited the Sheffield City Region Mayors dinner with Doncaster Chamber. I cycled the 12 miles there on a dark evening in full suit and took the bike into the venue. Spoke to lots of interested folk. The bus was my late transport back. The Mayor Dan Jarvis is big on active travel.

I work and manage Health and Wellbeing strategy for a private sector Organisation in North Sheffield, work on the Leeds City connect super cycle highway and work in the Public Sector in physical activity programmes. It gives me good grounding across public health, Workplace approach to health and actively travelling the regions network great insight.

City Connect

I also struggle with time like everyone but have discovered the key to unlocking more time is utilising the way we travel for physical activity (walking included).

Then exercise isn’t an add on chore after a long day at work and home is beckoning. Fuel cost and of course not contributing to already high air pollution levels is, well ethically the right thing to do.

Next I want to set the scene with two statistics relating to how inactive we actually are as a nation and some very surprising bad air quality hotspots – featuring Yorkshire (particularly in Doncaster)  and my top tips for cycling (forming habits). Or behaviour change as the academic world label it.

Fast forward 20 years and we have weather forecasts that feature levels of pollutions and public health warnings. UK air pollution could cause 36,000 deaths a year. A new report led by King’s and published by the government’s Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) estimates that between 28,000 and 36,000 people die as a result of air pollution every year in the UK

aru quality


Leeds took the worst place outside of London and I was very surprised at Hickleton in Doncaster featuring as the third worst area for pollution – somewhere I live and commute around by bike. Sheffield also ranked highly.

Then there is inactivity with many of us sat down on average 8.9 hours a day. Throw in the mix work, family and personal time commitments exercise gets pushed down that priority list – you can see how 25% of people do less than 30 minutes a week of physical activity (11.3 million people) – source: Sport England.

A host of health repercussions and costs to the NHS – NICE (National Institute for Health and care excellence estimates 1£1 billion a year from inactivity alone.




Or according to Copenhagen, the International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA), the UK ranks the highest across Europe in the inactivity states.


One of our most basic tools to be more active and fight against air pollution is altering the way we move. Of course electricity production, energy consumption for home & work environments, meat and farming all factor in to air pollution, but by moving around actively we limit our transport emission contribution.

By tackling our overuse of cars we hit two priority areas; increasing physical activity, the individual and community benefits of doing so and lessening our impact on local air quality levels.


Cycling and Walking to work / for work

Time – across urban centres cycling is often quicker. Consider Leeds (11.25 mph), Sheffield 10.44 mph and Bradford 10.08 mph). You can walk at 3.5 mph quite easily.

Cycling at 12 mph is considered fairly easy for beginners with little training – and your fitness levels soon improve.

So even at 12 mph you could be ahead of every car in the 10 cities listed below. That’s not taking into account getting to the car park and getting out of the car park – all time consuming we fail to factor in when using the car.





So if you are going to commute by bike here is some sensible things to think about


  1. Pack everything the night before (you may be up earlier and faffing about looking for things which will only create a bad experience) You will get quicker at this.
  2. When you arrive at work / destination feel proud. And the endorphins from the exercise will help you feel energised.
  3. If Night cycling take 2 light batteries (factor in winter they drain power quicker when it is cold). Make sure the second battery is accessible so you can change quickly. Use phone light to do this.
  4. If you can’t shower and you are sweating arrive 10 mins early and cool off outside before you enter a static building that will aid sweating. Hydrate obviously.
  5. Spare shirt if you are conscious about sweat patches – or cycle in a breathable top.
  6. Wet wipes for a quick once over (these are realities).
  7. Oil chain on bike frequently / check tightness of nuts and bolts.
  8. Locally there will be lots of initiatives on routes / cycle training etc. Sustran’s are a good starting point initially.
  9. 9. Spread the word let your social media contacts know.

Cyclists are the least exposed to air pollution on daily commutes into a congested city centre, research has shown. People in cars and buses spent longer in toxic air, as did walkers unless they made detours to avoid main roads. Source: James Tate, University of Leeds. Walkers use green routes where possible to reduce air pollution exposure.


The work, conducted in Leeds, supports the investment in cycle lanes to both reduce air pollution by cutting vehicle journeys and improve citizens’ health. It also found that air pollution reached relatively high levels inside cars, echoing a recent warning that cars are “boxes collecting toxic gases”.


My Cycle Commute videos

Green route examples are Trans Pennine trail see South Yorkshire trail here – Night cycling – NORTH SHEFFIELD SECTION


Cycle check lists – DONCASTER GREENWAY

Bike beats car North Bridge Doncaster congestion

City connect super cycle Highway Leeds – Bradford

And now the benefits of physical activity / cycling

  • Improved cardiovascular function. …
  • Muscle strength and tone. …
  • Increased mental wellbeing. …
  • Increased energy. …
  • Weight loss. …
  • Reduced stress. …
  • A fresh perspective. …
  • Family fun.
  • Cycling improves mental well-being. Cycling makes you happy: fact.
  • Cycling builds muscle. Build muscle on the bike
  • Better lung health. …
  • Cuts heart diseaseand cancer …
  • Cycling is low …
  • Cycling saves time. …
  • Cycling improves navigational skills.

Already the Sheffield City region Mayor is on the case focusing on active travel as is the Doncaster get moving project (looking at physical activity culture) and Leeds have a dedicated active travel team (walking / cycling).

Local initiatives such as Travel South Yorkshire Travel Team (SYT) work with business on active travel in Doncaster, Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley. The Canal River trust promote their Canal into Sheffield as an active travel route (green lined perfect away from pollution for walking)

B.Braun Medical have included offering e – bikes to employees through SYT, have a cycle roadshow in March and guest speaker Deborah Cundy talking about her journey in cycling as a total beginner. Walking also features in their Health and wellbeing programme for employees.

I also sit on the Sheffield Chamber Health and wellbeing Forum as vice chair with Westfield Health for business where Peter Kennan has presented on his work on the Sheffield City Region transport strategy which features active travel.

And to conclude as if we didn’t need any more evidence to use the car less and transform our travel habits consider the graphic below.

Infographic_on_the_scale_of_the_problem_with_air_pollution (1)

Member of the Royal Society for Public Health

Vice Chair of Sheffield chamber of commerce Health and wellbeing group

Workplace Health Lead National centre for sports and exercise medicine

Health and wellbeing Adviser to;

B.Braun Medical

Living streets (city connect walking) associate


Follow me and my active commute journeys


Twitter @AJPConsultant




Using Health and well-being to shape employer brand



This is an article about Health and Wellbeing in the workplace and its role across business function to help shape HR policy, enhance pay & benefit function, aid employee engagement and that all important “employee experience’ that Employers must manage.

But first of all I want to set the scene particular in a workplace and business context – it’s important.

Remember the good old days ‘of a job for life’. Local Government was probably the Employer of choice for my generation with the attraction been pensions schemes, job security and stability combined with good career progression.


Source: Think health and wellbeing

But how that has changed. A combination of Public cuts has led to fixed term contracts, impacting on the period paying into pensions and uncertain job security. Take away two key assets away from Local Government and it becomes a lot less appealing. Especially to the millennial generation with very different expectations. hr exchange network

Rebuilding a house of Health and Wellbeing (see graphic above) is one way to help offset other benefits lost in a changing and dynamic economy.


This isn’t a scathing attack on Local Government but a perspective on Employer brand which impacts on recruitment retention, recruitment and talent attraction. The HR function has such a broad range of challenges and expectation to deliver on from an ever changing employee landscape within a policy framework that needs to accommodate changing work practices.

What should have happened to negate these cuts to public service is an overhaul of the pay and benefits structure, incentives and building a proposition that makes LA attractive again in the face of it losing the strength of its job security and pension assets. In my experience (this isn’t with every LA), many are failing to meet the expectation of the millennial and next generation of workers.

LA 1

A secret weapon is adopting a Health and Wellbeing approach which looks at working environment, culture, external and internal marketing, pay and benefits and that all important social strand outside work. Remember the good old work social clubs – are they the next big thing in a different guise in terms of Employee offer?

See my other article here which goes into more depth on H&W and business function links –  Health and Wellbeing ‘Its none of your business’?

In the Private sector recruitment is an important strategy to remain competitive and making sure talented individuals are added to the team, as well as keeping the best performing individuals there. In a fierce job market it takes way more than the ‘usual’ perks to achieve this – and in a budget restrained environment some creativity.

So here comes the silver bullet, a once ‘nice to do’ and often overlooked add on function to an existing role – Health and Wellbeing. Free fruit, the odd exercise class, communications around health (still a good start), has now evolved into a more stand-alone function that has the ability to span every business function. And why. Because it is about people.


There isn’t anything else that has the ability to make people feel safe, invested in and cared for than health – something important to us all on an individual, family and social level. Providing opportunities around Health and wellbeing beyond just health insurance, cash care plans and clinical services (all  great benefits) focused on a preventative agenda is key. Inject this with a little fun, incentives, benefits, engagement and opportunity and you have an all singing all dancing brand.

And what has brand got to do with Health and Wellbeing? Let me offer an example. Say you are a B2B (business to business) operation. Very well established in your sector, a ton of credibility but little face/brand voice in a B2C context (business to customer).


An active employee H&W programme offers links locally, involves you in networks otherwise you wouldn’t be in normal business operations and provides a carousel of content and human interest stories so important to marketing strategies.

Perkbox area great example of brand building specifically positioning themselves at the tech savvy young graduate with a cool chic feel employee experience, placing emphasis on rewarding high performance with active culture, incentives *& rewards and buzzing social scene. As a fresh graduate why would you not gravitate to the perkbox brand rather than the Local Government bland brand?

Twinkl, an education resource based Business, runs a host of activities across health and wellbeing for its employees and provides resources  Twinkl wellbeing

Swinging this article around full circle remember recruitment? Branding. Whether B2B, B2C or Local Government what your employees say, are involved in and have access to will speak volumes to perspective candidates seeking work. H&W is an important lever to push your recruitment and Employer presence across social media that has enormous power.


Aviva UK have ‘Health Heroes’ championing employee health internally initiating activities. These activities not only enhance employee experience but also infilterate employees social media feeds spreading ‘the great to place work’ message.  Aviva Health

B.Braun Medical Ltd in Sheffield have an internal facing H&W brand ‘B Healthy B. Braun that feeds into Employee engagement, experience and social health activities whilst feeding content through new external networks across the City establishing itself as an Employer focused on Employee Health. B.BRAUN

B health image green smaller (2)

Millennials have different expectations. Physical workplace, chill out zones, nearer to home (less travel), flexible and remote working, perks, social connectivity and of course the ‘gig economy’. All important consideration in HR strategy.  The gig economy could be a freelancer servicing many contracts (I work this way), H&W connects me to my contracts and workplaces giving a sense of ‘collectiveness’ to remote working.


What comes with remote working could be ‘disconnect’ in terms of face to face situations. If business can be performed at home, in a coffee shop or on the go – is health and wellbeing activity the sticking glue in connecting that person back to the physical workplace whether social opportunities (think weekend walks / opportunities for family events provided through work)?

I get some of my greatest engagement putting events on outside work that includes family friendly activities e.g. an event I have held 4 times at the UK’s largest Indoor inflatable park – Jump inc’flatable. A fun environment for employees and families to have access to the park exclusively – the feedback is great and it provides an opportunity to communicate the other H&W offerings.


Now focus on ‘exclusivity’. Another BIG LEVER. What you as an employer offer others don’t. That offer keeps people. Not wanting to let go of something you feel is important to you. Friends and families comment on your workplace activities and what you have available to you – it instills a sense of pride.

And with National Health and wellbeing awards bringing the industry’s leading best practice examples and rewarding innovators the likes of RSPH  REBA   have two excellent days dedicated to learning from others and a top awards night for H&W in the workplace.

  • rsph  REBA

To conclude I didn’t want to write yet another article purely on key sick absence causes or trends – we know these, the evidence is clear, return on investment projection statistics available and credible business case support all over the internet.

What I wanted to touch on is the other opportunities that an active H&W programme and offer has to employers. The links with business strategy, recruitment & retention and the ability to shape positive employee experiences that appeal and resonate with differing employee expectations.

See Health as business opportunities Business Health ‘the new’ golf course


A broad and flexible workplace offer that can be tailored to individuals and accommodate current and emerging working practices is something H&W programmes have the leverage to shape and bring business benefits far wider than just reducing sickness rates. Think wider.


Andrew Picken

Member of Royal Society For Public Health

Workplace Health Lead and independent consultant.

Sit less – move more – is it really that serious an issue?

Workplaces leave us exposed to certain conditions / environments for long periods of time over our lifetimes. This accumulative effect of repetition can leave us vulnerable – the same thing, over a long period of time across years and years.


Been born and raised in an ex mining area South East of Wakefield the accumulative effective of my Grandads’ work exposure (down the pit) was respiratory; COPD which ultimately took his life. It is an obvious link to make when looking at the mining environment, dust and little protection against the environment in terms of PPE etc. We didn’t have the knowledge we do now.


We are now armed with so much more knowledge than years gone by and our work environments have improved dramatically from health and safety processes, safety equipment in more manual jobs to plush offices with lots of great facilities.


In a service economy we know that a lot of our work consists of sitting down for long periods of time. Married up to an inactive lifestyle outside of work this provides the perfect storm for negative health consequences to settle in.


The average UK Worker according to a survey by AXA in 2017 revealed on average we sit for 9 hours day. That’s the equivalent of flying long haul to Barbados (4208 miles from the UK) – EVERYDAY. Imagine a day in the office is equivalent to a long haul flight 5 days a week when we know all about the danger of sitting down for long periods in flight.


Space can tell us something too and NASA have some great literature on the effects of limited movement without gravity has on the body. Without this magical resistance around us called gravity the body suffers quite substantially. Yet if we don’t move enough on earth we are replicating these negative effects in Space over a longer period of time e.g. muscle loss.


(3) NASA found that maintaining strong muscles is a big enough challenge on Earth. It is much harder to do in space where there is no gravity.  Calf muscles biopsies before flight and after a six months mission on the ISS show that even when crew members did aerobic exercise five hours a week and resistance exercise three to six days per week, muscle volume and peak power both still decrease significantly.


Working with the strength for life team in Sheffield there is a huge evidence base telling us that maintaining muscle mass through loading up the body with weights (controlled and progressive weight training appropriate to the individual) is a huge asset in your arsenal against illness, recovering from illness and quality of life later in life.


Simply moving acts as a conditioning tool for whole body systems – too many to list. Be rest assured the evidence is irrefutable and those small regular moving habits within your day are key to improving health and fighting against our inactive lifestyles. Walking over to your colleague’s desk instead of using instant messaging etc all help. Lunch time walks and walking meetings are culturally hard to get in to the habit of doing but are so important.


  1. Braun Medical in Sheffield have embedded physical activity into their employee wellbeing programme helping them foster a cultural movement amongst employees to be conscious of moving more. On the business side of things it helps make a dent in absences due to inactive lifestyles but also acts as key indicator of investing in staff and health.

B health image green smaller (2)

And the benefits of moving more don’t just stop at just physical benefits. ”Sitting down can limit the fresh blood and oxygen going to the brain, meaning it can decrease levels of our ‘feel-good’ hormones, endorphins, and slow your brain function,” explained Iley (University of Chester), “It has an impact on your mental wellbeing, not just your physical health.”(4)


The NHS (2) is also churning out information linked to sitting down too much. The NHS knows that by reducing incidences of conditions directly attributed to physical inactivity (e.g. diabetes) it can prevent an influx of hospital admissions and reduce resource / financial spend.

The difficulty is where does the responsibility land? Many would argue the individual – and to some degree that could be a valid answer. But factors such as built environment, technology, convenience, the way we travel and commute and our external stressors all play a part in our choice to be more active.


Move More (1) is Sheffield’s plan to become the most active City in the UK by 2020 working with partners such as Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, Westfield Health, Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine and a network of partners.


It works across every sector including the business community, Education, community and acts as a lever to influence the way the City develops around embedding physical activity opportunities in everyday life.

In workplaces initiatives such as the workplace challenge have aimed at injecting fun into moving more by challenging employees to move more via an internet based workplace challenge platform used as an engagement tool to cascade the move more message communications and to find out who is the most active workplace in Sheffield revealed at an awards ceremony,

Locally based initiatives have been developed too including encouraging people to use the stairs over the lift using communications at ‘point of decision’ locations; lift or stairs, to nudge people toward stair use. This has been bolstered by lunchtime briefings for employees on the benefits of physical activity and strength training on reducing and managing (5) Musculoskeletal conditions (a top UK cause of absence)


Other initiatives have seen love to ride (7) and Inmotion (6) – a travel project – work with business specifically on supporting more active travel commutes to help build cycling or walking and public transport through local campaigns such as “little Big changes’ and the love to ride prize based cycle challenge.



Sheffield business can benefit from International expertise around this key public health priority by getting involved in the move more plan, receiving support through myself working in the City, gain access to resources and additional bespoke move more health products, services and resources.  The City wants to move more, we want you to move more and your health wants you to move more. Sheffield a City together in activity.


  5. guccounter=1&guce_referrer_us=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_cs=OgP6kEMwSO_rrtZlnqLdiA



Fit bit reveals by David Pogue


Exclusive: Fitbit’s 150 billion hours of heart data reveal secrets about health

For something as important as heart health, it’s amazing how little you probably know about yours.

Most people probably get their heart rates measured only at doctor visits. Or maybe they participate in a limited study.

But modern smartwatches and fitness bands can track your pulse continuously, day and night, for months. Imagine what you could learn if you collected all that data from tens of millions of people!

That’s exactly what Fitbit (FIT) has done. It has now logged 150 billion hours’ worth of heart-rate data. From tens of millions of people, all over the world. The result: the biggest set of heart-rate data ever collected.

Fitbit also knows these people’s ages, sexes, locations, heights, weights, activity levels, and sleep patterns. In combination with the heart data, the result is a gold mine of revelations about human health.

Back in January, Fitbit gave me an exclusive deep dive into its 6 billion nights’ worth of sleep data. All kinds of cool takeaways resulted. So I couldn’t help asking: Would they be willing to offer me a similar tour through this mountain of heart data?

They said OK. They also made a peculiar request: Would I be willing to submit a journal of the major events of my life over the last couple of years? And would my wife Nicki be willing to do the same?

We said OK.

Oh boy.

About resting heart rate

Before you freak out: Fitbit’s data is anonymized. Your name is stripped off, and your data is thrown into a huge pool with everybody else’s. (Note, too, that this data comes only from people who own Fitbits — who are affluent enough, and health-conscious enough, to make that purchase. It’s not the whole world.)

Most of what you’re about to read involves resting heart rate. That’s your heart rate when you’re still and calm. It’s an incredibly important measurement. It’s like a letter grade for your overall health.

“The cool thing about resting heart rate is that it’s a really informative metric in terms of lifestyle, health, and fitness as a whole,” says Scott McLean, Fitbit’s principal R&D scientist.

For one thing — sorry, but we have to go here — the data suggests that a high resting heart rate (RHR) is a strong predictor of early death. According to the Copenhagen Heart Study, for example, you’re twice as likely to die from heart problems if your RHR is 80, compared with someone whose RHR is below 50. And threetimes as likely to die if your RHR is over 90.

Studies have found a link between RHR and diabetes, too. “In China, 100,000 individuals were followed for four years,” says Hulya Emir-Farinas, Fitbit’s director of data science. “For every 10 beats per minute increase in resting heart rate, the risk of developing diabetes later in life was 23 percent higher.”

So what’s a good RHR? “The lower the better. It really is that simple,” she says.

Your RHR is probably between 60 and 100 beats a minute. If it’s outside of that range, you should see a doctor. There could be something wrong.

(The exception: If you’re a trained athlete, a normal RHR can be around 40 beats a minute. If you’re Usain Bolt, it’s 33.)

Regular exercise is good for your heart, of course. But all kinds of other factors affect it, too, including your age, sex, emotional state, stress level, diet, hydration level, and body size. Medicines, especially blood-pressure and heart meds, can affect it, too. All of this explains why RHR a good measure of your overall health.

Fitbit’s data confirms a lot of what cardiologists already know. But because the Fitbit data set is ridiculously huge, it unearthed some surprises, too.

“I was a researcher in my past life,” says McLean. “You would conduct an experiment for 20 minutes, then you’d make these huge hypotheses and conclusions about what this means for the general population. We don’t have to do that. We have a large enough data set where we can confidently make some really insightful conclusions.”

Women vs. men, young vs. old

The first observation from Fitbit’s data: Women tend to have higher resting heart rates than men.

Your heart speeds up until middle age — and then, weirdly, slows down.
Your heart speeds up until middle age — and then, weirdly, slows down.

“Because women tend to be smaller,” says Emir-Farinas, “their heart is smaller, and the heart needs to work harder to make sure that blood is circulating and it’s being provided to all vital organs.”

What’s weird, though, is that your RHR goes up as you approach middle age, and then goes down again later — and that’s something scientists hadn’t witnessed with such specificity before the Fitbit study. “This has never been reported before in the medical literature with such confidence,” says McLean.

So what’s going on? Why does your heart rate increase as you approach your late 40s?

Well, one big reason might be having kids. You get busy. You eat junkier food. You exercise less. You’re more stressed out.

And, of course, everybody’s metabolism naturally slows down — that’s why so many people gain weight around middle age. “Also, the heart itself is changing,” says McLean. “The muscle becomes weaker. Each time we contract, less blood goes into the heart.”

All of that means that that your heart has to work harder — and your RHR goes up.

OK, fine. But then why does your heart rate drop after middle age?

“We think some of the decline is attributed to the use of beta blockers and calcium channel blockers” — blood-pressure and heart-attack medicines — “because 30% of adults in the U.S. have hypertension,” says Emir-Farinas.

Otherwise, the Fitbit scientists aren’t sure what causes this effect; after all, they’ve just discovered the phenomenon. “This opens up all new possibilities to try and understand in more detail, with maybe more controlled experiments, why these things happen,” says McLean.

RHR Variation

The new data doesn’t just show our average RHR; it also shows how much our RHRs vary.

“Younger women, on average, experience a higher variation,” says Emir-Farinas. “Some of that could be explained by hormonal changes during menstruation.”

You know who else turns out to have wide swings in heart rate? Men over 50.

“It’s manopause, as my wife calls it in me,” McLean cracks. “But no, we don’t know the reason, because nobody’s really observed this before.”


Your body-mass index, or BMI, represents your height and weight. It’s your obesity level.

“As your weight increases, so does your resting heart rate — which makes sense, of course, because there’s more tissue to support, and the heart needs to work harder,” notes Emir-Farinas.

It’s healthiest not to be overweight — but underweight might not be healthy, either.

But the Fitbit data also shows an association between high RHR and low body weight.

“Yeah, there’s an optimal BMI, where the body is able to work efficiently. Either side of that, the body isn’t at an optimal state of general maintenance and efficiency. It’s having to work harder to provide the basic provisions.”

Physical Activity: Quantity

It’s not news that getting exercise is good for your heart. (The American Heart Association recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous active minutes a week.)

What is surprising, though, is that the benefit tapers off after a couple hundred minutes of exercise.

Regular activity does wonders for your heart — up to a point.

“That’s good news — you don’t have to work out every minute of every day to continue to get more benefit,” says McLean. “After 200 to 300 minutes per week, you don’t see much of a change in resting heart rate or a benefit. I don’t have to do 500 minutes, I can do half that. That’s achievable.”

Physical activity: Consistency

Fitbit’s data makes it clear that it’s not just about getting a lot of exercise — it’s getting it consistently. The more consistent you are, the lower your resting heart rate.

Sitting all week and then blowing yourself out on the weekend is not a great approach. “You can’t gain cardiovascular health from a once-a-week exercise bash. Running in the morning and then sitting all day — that’s not a great approach, either,” Emir-Farinas says.

This, of course, is why smartwatches and fitness bands today all pop up reminders once an hour to get up and walk around.

RHR and age

The next chart emphasizes that it’s possible to lower your heart rate at any age.

You can lower your heart rate no matter how old you are, but it’s easier if you’re younger.

“As you can see, younger individuals can achieve a larger decline than older individuals,” says Emir-Farinas. “But it is possible for older people to reduce their resting heart rate, too, with sustained physical activity.”


Sleeping is good for you — but only to a point. Too much sleep might actually be bad for you.

“There is a sweet spot,” says Emir-Farinas. “It’s very clear from this plot that you have this window of optimal sleep, and it really does have an impact on your resting heart rate.”

In general, sleep is good for your heart — but there might be such a thing as too much.

That sweet spot is not 8 hours of sleep a night — it’s 7.25 hours. In terms of heart health, that’s the number you should be going for. “Which is good news for busy people,” says McLean.

Country vs. Country

“These are my favorite charts,” says Emir-Farinas. She plotted age-adjusted data from the 55 countries with the most Fitbit wearers.

It graphs the citizens’ activity levels (horizontal axis) against their average resting heart rate (vertical).

Amazingly, people in different countries have different heart rates, even if their age, sex, and exercise levels are the same.

The variation in heart rates is, to me, just crazy. Among people who get about 55 minutes of activity a day, the RHR is about 62 beats a minute in Costa Rica, but almost 70 in India! What could that mean?

“That means there’s other factors at play,” Emir-Farinas says. “It’s their nutrition, it’s their BMIs, it’s their practices, medication — and genetics, of course. That’s also a big part of it.”

In general, Europe beats the world here. “They have designed their cities so that there will be more physical activity. People have to walk more just do normal activities: going to the grocery store, going to work, they have to walk a little,” she says. (Check out Sweden, for example: almost 90 minutes of activity a day!)

They also drink a lot of wine in Europe. Just sayin’.

The scientists note that Qatar seems to be an outlier. Seventy percent of the Qatari population is obese — yet their RHR is an impressive 62. How could that be?

Emir-Farinas’s theory is that huge numbers of them are on blood-pressure and heart meds.

Congratulations to Italians, by the way, with an impressive 84 minutes a day of activity, and a nearly-dead 61 beats-a-minute RHR.

And as for Pakistan, with the worst activity level and a sky-high RHR — get with it, people!

Nicki and David

My wife Nicki has run 16 marathons. The last time she ingested fat or sugar, she was probably in kindergarten. She’s going to live to be 200.

So I wasn’t entirely looking forward to the slide that compares her health to mine. (I have run 0 marathons.)

Sure enough: There she is, in the ninth percentile of resting heart-rate. Meaning that 91% of women her age have a higher heart rate.

OK, my wife whomps me in the activity department — but I’m the king of sleep.

“Her resting heart rate is very low for her age and gender group. Daily active minutes — it’s amazing, 70 minutes per day,” says Emir-Farinas.

I was horrified to discover my Daily Active Minutes stat: I’m in the 12th percentile. (In my defense, these numbers don’t include all the sedentary people who don’t wear fitness bands.)

But Emir-Farinas cheered me up: “On the other hand, your sleep is amazing. You’re smashing it with your REM duration.”

The journal study

The wildest slides, for me, were the ones where they plotted our life events against our heart-rate data. Here’s mine:

This three-year vertical timeline plots my major life events against my resting heart rate.

Kind of wild to see how starting to use a treadmill — the first regular cardio workouts I’ve ever really gotten — visibly lowered my entire heart-rate range.

Also, it turns out that having kidney stones is bad for you. My heart rate went through the roof both times.

I was surprised and amused, though, to see the second most stressful events on my graph: holiday get-togethers.

“You see the heart rate go up before your family reunions, and then tend to really take a long time to come back after it,” notes McLean. In other words — who knew?? — holidays with the family are not a guarantee of peace, relaxation, and joy.

“You heard that first at Fitbit,” jokes Mclean.

The takeaways

Your resting heart rate boils a whole range of health-related stats — exercise, diet, age, sleep, where you live — down to a single, reliable statistic.

“Your resting heart rate is a very easily understood and digestible metric,” says McLean. “It’s something that lets you say, ‘Wow, I see my resting heart rate — I see it changing, that means something.’ It’s so motivational. I can go, ‘Wow, these are the things that obviously worked for me and these are the things that aren’t.”

He hopes to spread the word about the resting heart rate beyond the community of hard-core athletes.

“We view everyone as an athlete,” he says. “So you can be 20, you can be 30, you can be 40, you can be 70. You’re your own athlete, and you have an opportunity to improve your health.”





Health and Wellbeing ‘Its none of your business’?

…in fact it should be every part of your business as I attempt to reveal hidden benefits beyond the traditional arguments of “Return on investment” stats” and “sickness figures”…


In today’s world, the online universe provides a plethora of information, facts, studies and statistics that have built a business case that is hard to ignore around investing in the health and wellbeing (H&W) of your employees.

Well that is how it looks from “us lot” in the Public Health community anyway. But to resonate with business leaders and in particular the boardroom there needs to be other drivers for investment in health and wellbeing strategies and programming that goes beyond the ethical argument.

The trouble is, although the evidence is compelling, it is often produced and researched by academics, public health professionals and approached with arguments we think are relevant to business, without actually knowing what really is relevant to business.


For example reducing absenteeism rates is a definite business tangible, a long term one, and the term presenteeism (at work but less productive as a result of a health issue- think stress/personal/MSK etc) also a valid argument. But in the short term how is it measurable, or better put how does H&W contribute across the business to other business tangibles?

Of course for some Organisations reducing absenteeism is enough of a catalyst to lever investment and, provide in response,  a suite of health and wellbeing initiatives, activities and resources to help combat some of the aforementioned workforce health issues of our time.

For others, excuse the phrase, it is like ‘a stab in the dark’ – feeling compelled to do something but not sure exactly what to do, or where it fits in the bigger picture. It is an increasingly more complex area of business. Furthermore how does health and wellbeing fit with the wider Business strategy and how can it transcend every business function?

As I am lucky enough to occupy a position purely managing a health and wellbeing strategy and programme in business and working with multiple businesses across the Sheffield City Region I have a unique insight into how a Health and Wellbeing Programme sells at board level and experience of a range of evidence based health initiatives eg inactivity in workforces.

I also come with over 15 years of public health experience for the NHS, VCS Sector and Housing Sector which enables me to pool the knowledge and expertise I have gained across Sectors. Often sectors that don’t deal with each other in day to day operations – which brings business benefits you may not think about when involved in H&W programmes.

So health statistics, evidence, and return on investment, infographics, and Chief Medical Officer Health guidelines aside – how can a health and wellbeing programme translate health benefits into overall business benefits that make a board tick?


Think of a constant source of human interest stories providing a rich source of content to feed social media channels, staff magazines and add value to the external brand. For example a b2b business brand may not reach local / regional communities but Health and Wellbeing activities can add value to brands by exposing your business to new markets and networks through community / employee involvement.

For example award winning health and wellbeing programmes, accreditations (such as Investors in people that include a H&W element) and the achievements of staff circulating their Healthy activities across personal social media networks provides invaluable reach to new audiences.

Ethical Investment

According to data on investor preferences, put together by London-based investment firm IW Capital, 24% of investors would refrain from pursuing an investment decision because of ethical concerns over the product or service.

And consider this, it goes on to state, ‘Of 2,004 respondents, almost a third said the ethical, social or environmental impact of the company they were investing in was just as important as the financial return’.


So an effective Health and wellbeing programme can contribute directly to investment opportunities, brand credibility and new growth markets. And this is true throughout my own observations in business. Contracts, tender and bid documents all require much more information than a quote purely based on the cheapest cost. Procurement Professionals want to know about your business, your employees, credibility and CSR etc.

Suddenly in ‘business speak’ H&W is picking up more momentum than just the ‘it’s the right thing to do’ argument, or an approach based purely on projecting savings through H&W investment. All arguments based on solid evidence may I add, but on their own may not be enough to convince some boardrooms.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

CSR is a little like H&W ‘a nice to do’ or an added extra section on a tender document as a tick box exercise with no real direction or thought going into it. Of course not true of a lot of Organisations who have some innovative H&W programmes.

Virgin Money Lounges are a beautifully crafted example of a CSR agenda tied into brand, reaching new audiences, supporting deprived communities and feeding back into increasing banking customers.




If your business has expertise staff skills be sure to share this across multiple systems (think educational business visits, university fairs, community health and wellbeing programmes etc). Your long term brand floods future recruitment channels – think Talent selection, recruitment and retention. It is a hotly contested job market out there. Potential recruits look for more than just the salary; pay and benefits, an advocate of the brand, health and wellbeing culture…the list goes on.

An example of this is Perkbox – a pay and benefits platform, that has a predominately young workforce and therefore positions its brand as the ‘hip’ ‘cool’ choice of Employer. If you’re one of the best tech graduates you are going to want to work with a brand known for its unique work environment – think a performance work ethic wrapped around fun, plank challenges, chill out areas, social space, bonuses, free fruit/food and games.

Pay and Benefits

REBA held their Health and Wellbeing congress in London a few weeks ago – with input from Debi O’Donovan. It was a mainly HR audience interested in the role of H&W in engagement, policy, recruitment and the ‘bigger picture. Amongst the many fantastic speakers there, one presentation talking about ethical investment was as solid business case for H&W as I have heard with fascinating insight.

Aviva also presented on the power of employee stories regarding mental health and their programme which includes support for employees, training and expert support. Read about the programme here: AVIVA HEALTH AND WELLBEING

If you work for a company you genuinely feel proud to work for, valued, part of the family / brand you are much more likely to perform better. Reciprocation. According to HR Technologist ‘Beyond the salary – A salary is the minimum a company must offer an employee to complete tasks. For work that is immune to quality problems, maybe a salary is enough.


However, in roles where completion is not good enough – where engagement, productivity, and resourcefulness matter – incentives are indispensable. In challenging work, there is no reciprocity without incentives. H&W can be part of those incentives. A business investing in the health of ‘you’ gives a personalisation and caring feel very few benefits can achieve.

The ‘Golf Course Effect

I spoke about this in an article I wrote earlier in the year around health and wellbeing activities outside of work. I made the link between Health and wellbeing activities acting as a driver for increased communication and collaboration in business bringing colleagues from different departments together.

This argument comes back to the point I made about H&W transcending parts of the business other initiatives don’t. Especially true in bigger business, it can indeed act as an educational tool for people to learn about different parts of the business that may not come into contact with each other in normal day to day business operations.

Imagine the difference between a cold email from a colleague in some far distant department further in the supply chain, or an email / call from a colleague you have participated in an activity with and have a rapport with. I’d suggest you would fulfill that request / task to a better level and with a tailored more friendly approach. Great for business.

See more on this article dubbed ‘Employee Health and wellbeing programmes – on “COURSE” to take over “GOLF”!


Cross Sector brand credibility

I can say from experience – the range of health projects and initiatives across the UK at the moment opens up unparalleled opportunities to work with sectors you would have never worked with in daily business operations. But what does this mean? Let me provide an example.

B.Braun Medical Ltd has its Head Quarters in Sheffield and provides industry leading medical products and services across the UK Health sector.

Through a 10 year health and wellbeing programme operating under the brand B.Healthy B.Braun it has links with

B health image green smaller (2)

  1. The National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine
  2. Royal Society for Public Health recognised H&W Scheme.
  3. Featured in active travel campaigns for South Yorkshire Transport Executive
  4. Features on the Yorkshire Physical Activity Knowledge Exchange platform
  5. Has regular content in the local and regional media
  6. Has input into the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce Health and Wellbeing group
  7. Facilitated a visit by John Lewis to help inform there H&W programme
  8. A case study for the Inmotion active travel campaign,
  9. Features in HR publications around Employee Health and Wellbeing programmes
  10. Featured in the Outdoor City run routes videos for the Sheffield City Region with employees.
  11. Part of the England Athletics LIRF Run England Programme.
  12. Has a large active employee group in short and long walk trips, running groups, onsite activities and colleagues presented at a recent health awards event.

This carousel of activity provides reams of content for marketing as well as positioning the Company as a role model for other business in leading the field of employee H&W locally.

The H&W landscape is vast and knowing where to go, access to resource, tapping into existing schemes can save both time and money going it alone with a H&W programme.

It is my specialist area and I have included a few examples of where you can access these resources from Public Health England for free (link below) and also my slideshare account that contains a selection of H&W reports, examples and presentations.

The synergy

Hopefully you have joined the dots between the six subtitles and made the discovery that H&W gels them altogether. It is hard to pick the most relevant benefit for business, as each Organisation has its own culture, board personalities and all the internal and external factors that influence the way it operates.

I could have filled this article up with fancy infographics, statistics, ROI calculations and the like that are readily available free – check the excellent Public Health England resource out here


It is information I use to inform and drive H&W programmes within business, it is a field I operate in and a landscape I know inside out. But I also have the advantage of working in business, with Boards of Directors on H&W to offer observations and insight into other drivers of H&W programmes that might get missed out by the Public Health sector but offer just as much, if not more power to persuade businesses to invest in employee H&W.


  1. Presentations on physical activity guidelines (2018 Nuffield report), REBA Employer Survey example report, NICE Workplace guidance and example slides of my own H&W initiatives programmes and behavioural change projects

Notable reports and sources of Health information – follow links;

Health Foundation 

Royal Society for Public Health 

Westfield Health

Sport England




Andrew Picken
Member of Royal Society for Public Health
Health and Wellbeing Consultant
National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine (Sheffield)
B.Braun Medical Ltd (Sheffield)
Living Streets Associate (Leeds)
Twitter: @AJPConsultant
Facebook: manbeast28 / Healthinbusiness28

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