Background: It is a common belief that physical exercise at the workplace decreases subjective health complaints and reduces sickness absence, but this is not supported by previous randomized studies.
Aims: To evaluate the effectiveness of physical exercise at the workplace.
Methods: One hundred and twenty-nine employees in a community-based nursing home for the elderly were randomized into physical exercise or control groups. A weekly exercise class consisting of light aerobic exercise, muscle strengthening and stretching was held for a 6-month period. The control group was told to continue their ordinary activity. The main outcome measures were aerobic fitness (UKK, walking test), health-related quality of life (COOP/WONCA) and sickness absence. Blinded assessments were carried out at baseline and following the 6-month intervention. Complete sickness absence data were collected from a community register for two comparable 7-month periods.
Results: The average number of exercise sessions was 12 (0-26). Self-reported physical activity increased in the intervention group compared with the control group (P < 0.01). Aerobic fitness improved in both groups (P < 0.01). Mean sickness absence increased from 6.8 to 15.6 days in the exercise group and from 10.4 to 14.5 in the control group. No differences between groups were found for aerobic fitness, health-related quality of life or sickness absence.
Conclusion: The intervention neither improved health-related quality of life nor reduced sickness absence.