View the toolkit for active living in the workplace, a Population and Public Health Wellness program.

Background on active living

What is active living?

  • Active living is an approach to life that values and includes physical activity as part of daily routine.
  • Active living in the workplace may look like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, participating in walking or standing meetings, using active transportation to commute to and from work, going to the park, or participating in an exercise class before or after work or during lunch hour.

How much activity is enough?

  • The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology has created 24-Hour Movement Guidelines that integrate physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep to define what a healthy 24 hours looks like.
  • The guidelines recommend adults aged 18 to 64 participate in a variety of types and intensities of physical activity, including:
    • 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week.
    • Muscle strengthening activities using major muscle groups at least twice per week.
    • Several hours of light physical activity, including standing, walking and strolling.
  • These guidelines can be met by participating in 10 minute or more periods of physical activity throughout the day.

Benefits of active living

  • Increases energy levels, self-esteem and feelings of confidence.
  • Improves ability to cope with stress, mood, feelings of pleasure and happiness and satisfaction in life.
  • Creates new opportunities for social connection.
  • Strengthens bones and muscles, improves balance and posture and decreases the risk of many chronic diseases and cancers.

Active living and mental health

Mental health and physical health are closely linked because moderate physical activity releases endorphins, dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which creates feelings of happiness and contributes to the overall benefits of active living. For those living with mental illness, physical activity has also been shown to help manage symptoms and improve mood regulation. Participating in active living helps supports both mental and physical health.

Why support active living in the workplace?

Benefits to employers

  • Improves employees’ morale, job satisfaction, ability to cope with stress, productivity, effectiveness at work, health and well-being.
  • Reduces levels of absenteeism, injuries, turnover, disability compensation, health care and life insurance costs.
  • Can enhance company image and create a more positive workplace culture.
  • Can decrease long-term costs for the organization.

How to support active living in the workplace

Policies and programs

Policies have the ability to create environments and opportunities for employees to make choices that promote active living in an equitable way.

Programs support policies by creating actionable ways to implement them. Programs can be educational or activity-based to create opportunities to both learn and apply learning.

It is important when planning any policy or program to include feedback from employees and ensure equitable access for employees of all abilities and for employees in all work environments.

Policy actions and programs

Policies can be created based on specific goals, can be put into one active living policy or can be incorporated into other policies, through a health in all policies approach. Extended health benefits packages and current policies may also support active living goals. Identify these, promote them and update as needed.

Below are some examples of policy actions and programs, separated by the goal they can help achieve.

  • Create opportunities to make decisions that support active living during the work day.

    • Support and incorporate stretch breaks, standing and walking meetings.
    • Support employees taking a break at lunch and encourage employees to use their break times to participate in physical activity - ensure meetings aren’t set during lunch or break times.
    • Allow for flexible work hours or flex time to be accrued for active living.
      • E.g. flex time accrued and used for a physical activity class or adjusting work hours to accommodate active commuting.
    • Place signage around the workplace and distribute to employees to encourage active living behaviours such as taking the stairs or stretch breaks.
  • Create physical and social environments that support active living throughout the work day.

    • Ensure stairwells are well-marked, accessible, safe and appealing to use.
    • Allow for a flexible dress code one or more days a week.
    • Commit to creating spaces for physical activity within the workplace such as outdoor areas, fitness facilities or physical activity equipment.
    • Commit to providing amenities to support active commuting (i.e. bike storage, change rooms and shower facilities).
    • Support management to advocate for community changes (i.e. sidewalk and lighting improvements) to support active living.
    • Commit to providing education and resources to employees regarding active living, its benefits and offering opportunities for participation.
    • Commit to supporting employees in creating and maintaining a remote work environment in which they can participate in physical activity throughout the day.
    • Create 10 minute walking routes either inside or outside of the office.
  • Provide active living opportunities before, during and after the work day.

    • Commit to offering physical activity programming during lunch, break times, before or after work.
    • Support management to receive and implement feedback from their employees and to reach out to the appropriate community partners to improve, create, or implement active living programming or initiatives.
    • Start a walking group or organized activity program during breaks that are 10 to 30 minutes in length.
    • Provide opportunities to employees to learn about active living, the benefits, how they can participate and available opportunities.
  • Incentivize active living

    • Provide subsidy or cost-covering opportunities for exercise facilities, physical activity programs, active commuting equipment and/or education programs.
    • Incorporate an employee movement recognition program to reward employees who are committed to living an active lifestyle.
    • Provide transit passes or fitness centre memberships to employees at no cost or a subsidized cost.
    • Allocate funding for incentives or rewards for employee participation.
    • Allocate funding and staffing support for active living programs and initiatives.
    • Support for one or multiple employees becoming a champion for active living.


Initiatives can help kick start and raise awareness for active living policies and programs. This can help engage all employees and management in active living. Initiatives generally have a reward or recognition component as an incentive.

Tips for designing and implementing an active living policy, program or initiative

Having a coordinated approach to support active living in the workplace is important to create effective and positive change. Positive impacts can result from small and sustainable changes. Supporting active living does not need to supersede other wellness priorities, but rather compliment them. Here are some tips on how to effectively design and implement an active living policy, program or initiative:

  • Update current policies, programs and initiatives as needed
  • Keep active living in mind when routinely reviewing policies or programs
  • Work with employees to identify priorities
  • Conduct a needs assessment and identify what already exists
  • Use a current occupational health and safety committee
  • Create goals based on what is feasible for your organization
  • Create an evaluation strategy
  • Learn together

Download a printable version of this toolkit


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