What's New with WELL v2: Movement

by Vienna McLeod
Sep 10, 2018 1:40 PM ET
Campaign: IWBI | WELL AP

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Why movement matters

Physical activity is widely known to decrease the risk of countless chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer. It also has a powerful impact on quality of life, mental health and well-being. Despite the widely recognized benefits of physical activity, global estimates show that 23% of adults and 81% of adolescents do not achieve sufficient levels of physical activity (150 min/week for adults or 60 min/day for adolescents). Furthermore, sedentary behavior is also on the rise and poses unique risks to health that are independent of physical activity levels (the phenomenon of the active couch potato lives on). In addition to the widespread negative health impacts of physical inactivity, there are also stark economic implications.  In 2013 alone, it is estimated that physical inactivity cost healthcare systems $54 billion and contributed to nearly $14 billion in productivity losses worldwide.

Put simply, physical activity matters for more than just our physical health.

The pandemic of physical inactivity is not surprising. Today, the healthy choice is often the more difficult choice. The choice to be active is widely blocked by social, economic, environmental and personal barriers. In particular, the built environment is known to be a key influencer of physical activity behavior. When thoughtfully designed, our environments can invite and encourage physical activity. However, when we don’t put people at the center of design, our environments can be a deterrent of physical activity and even encourage sedentary behaviors.

Though tackling physical inactivity at the global scale is an immensely complex challenge, it has opened the door for industry innovation. It has forged new partnerships, renewed public health commitments and spurred advancements across the fields of design, technology, research and practice that show immense promise for changing the tone of this story. It is where the formerly unlikely partnership between design and public health was born and has created the climate for healthy-building rating systems like WELL to thrive.

Physical activity, today

Today, we understand more than ever that all movement matters for health. The way we think about physical activity includes that which we accumulate through intentional exercise and other leisure time activities and as well as a wide variety of activities that we engage in throughout the day. While your walk to work may not prepare you for the London Marathon, movement accumulated through active commuting, use of a sit-stand desk, walking meetings, alternating between flexible workspaces in your office and taking the stairs all contribute to total daily activity and have important health benefits.

In addition, the subdisciplines of physical activity have expanded beyond the traditional fields of exercise physiology, public health, epidemiology and other clinical fields to include those of design, architecture, technology, transportation, urban planning and others. This has deepened our understanding of the intersection between health and physical activity and, more importantly, expanded the framework for intervention. A push for a more comprehensive and systems-level framework for action is now being adopted at a global scale. In fact, the World Health Organization recently released the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030 that recognizes the necessary intersection of environmental design, policies and programs working together towards shared physical activity targets including those that overlap with the Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations.  

Movement in WELL v2

In alignment with globally recognized goals to reduce physical inactivity, the intent of the Movement concept in WELL v2 is to promote movement, physical activity and active living and discourage sedentary behaviors. Towards these goals, the concept integrates tried and true strategies such as those defined in the Active Design Guidelines including active staircases, amenities for active occupants including bike parking, showers and lockers, building location and site amenities and dedicated exercise spaces. Here at IWBI, we also recognize that good design should be complemented by comprehensive wellness policies and programs that further reinforce healthy behaviors and a healthy environment. These include strategies like physical activity programming.

Under WELL v1, we saw a tremendous response from projects eager to have a positive impact on their employees and building occupants. We saw creativity, innovation and intention towards physical activity and movement including the MNP Tower in Vancouver, Canada complete with a rock climbing wall (yes that’s right!) and the beautifully designed staircase at Mirvac Headquarters in Sydney, Australia.

What’s changed

One of the changes we’re most excited about is the evolution of the concept’s name from Fitness in WELL v1 to Movement in WELL v2. This shift is meant to reflect the fact that all movement matters and you don’t need to be physically fit to enjoy the benefits that movement and physical activity have to offer.

In addition, with the adoption of topics like ergonomics, the concept seeks to adopt a more holistic approach to achieve its goals. Today, occupational injuries and ergonomic factors rank among the leading drivers of disability for those ages 15-49 worldwide. The Movement concept seeks to address ergonomic comfort and safety through a variety of strategies including design, education, training and other policies. The Movement concept includes two features related to ergonomics: a precondition that expands upon Feature 73 (from WELL v1) to also require education and an optimization that requires projects to connect with experts to provide employees with training and education support including regular audits of ergonomic conditions.

The Movement concept also considers emerging technologies such as sensors and wearables which ranked third on a list of fitness trends monitored by the American College of Sports Medicine in 2018. While we still have much to learn about the long-term utility of wearable technologies, we are eager to explore how WELL projects can best leverage these tools.

WELL v2 also takes a more flexible approach to physical activity promotion and incentives through feature V11: Physical Activity Promotion. The literature on this subject is challenging but what we learned from projects in WELL v1 and in our conversations with experts is that physical activity promotion can take on many forms including everything from subsidies for group fitness classes to flexible scheduling.

Finally, the Movement concept recognizes the critical role of context. Community context that is. Feature V05: Site Planning and Selection offers an array of point earning opportunities and encourages projects to consider locations that are near multiple building use types, are pedestrian and cyclist friendly and are located near public transit opportunities. This feature is deeply synergistic with sustainability, drawing from the approaches of green rating systems. Why? Because what’s good for the planet is usually good for people.   

What’s the Impact

The impact of changing the global physical activity narrative is substantial. Worldwide, if physical inactivity were reduced by just 10%, more than half a million deaths could be averted. The Movement concept aims to change the modern physical activity narrative through better design, better policies and better programs. When we invite movement through the spaces in which we live, learn, work and play these spaces help us thrive. And that’s what WELL is all about.