Voices about physical activity and brain health

More and more people suffer from stress-related mental illness as a result of demanding lifestyles and work environments. Research shows that physically-active lifestyles promote cerebral health. The knowledge gaps, however, are still large.

 - "We do not know which activity patterns provide the most benefits to our ability to think and our psychological wellbeing, but this comprehensive research project is intended to answer these questions. The goal is that both employers and employees will gain a better understanding of how physical activity can be used as a tool for promoting healthy brain function in this regard," says research leader Maria Ekblom, docent at GIH.

New legal requirements

The Swedish Work Environment Authority has released new regulations about the organizational and social working environment (AFS 2015:14), which came into force on March 31st 2016.

The regulations place demands on employers' knowledge and goals related to the organizational and social work environment and even regulate workloads, working hours and offensive and discriminatory practices.

Previous research has shown that physically-active individuals feel better and have greater ability to think than less active people. But is it unclear which components of physical activity patterns are important for strengthening psychological health and cognitive function (the ability to think), and which mechanisms support these. It is also unclear which activity patterns are desirable.

GIH wants to contribute knowledge that can be used

Today, well-educated and well-functioning employees are many employers' most important assets. High demands at work and at home make it difficult in many cases for employees to adopt and maintain a physically-active lifestyle. Therefore, it is also important that the research results lead to knowledge that can be used.

In this four-year project, new objective methods of measures will be used, which make it possible to obtain a more detailed picture of activity patterns and knowledge that can be put into practice.

The concept "physical activity patterns" comprises how often and how long an individual sits and engages in low-intensity or more-intensive activities (such as fitness training) during a day. Carefully studying these patterns is one of several unique aspects of this series of studies.

 - "This is an opportunity for GIH, through its research, to contribute to reducing stress-related illness in the workplace and in people's lives," says Karin Larsén, vice-chancellor at GIH.

Financing the project

The total budget for the research project is approximately 38 million Swedish crowns, which is co-financed Intrum Justitia Sverige AB, Ica Gruppen AB, Itrim Sverige AB, SATS ELIXIA, Monark Exercise AB, GIH and the Knowledge Foundation. The mission of the Knowledge Foundation is to promote growth in the Swedish commercial sector by co-financing research that is carried out in collaboration between academia and private companies.

The motivation for the participating companies is in part to produce evidence-based health-promoting working methods in their HR work and in part to develop new services and products in a market that is growing both domestically and internationally.

Bild på teamet bakom Hjärnhälsa-projektet


Evidence-based work

Evidence-based health-promoting work increases the possibility to meet the new requirements of the Swedish Work Environment Authority, which emphasize that employers have a large responsibility for the organizational and psycho-social work environment.Bild på Rakel Segefalk

 - "It feels great to be a part of this important research project, so that we will have an opportunity to examine which health efforts actually make a difference. This is important for all companies that wish to take responsibility for and live up to the regulations and guidelines that govern our work environment," says Rakel Segefalk, HR Director at Intrum Justitia.Bild på Ann Hennicks

 - "We are very happy that to be a part of this exciting project, which is completely in line with ICA's efforts in the area of health and societal engagement. It will be interesting to continuously receive updates on the conclusions that are drawn, and in addition to see what we can do ourselves to influence how we feel and perform in our work environment, to continue to be an attractive employer," says Anne Hennicks, HR Director at ICA Sverige.