Addressing the challenges of an ageing workforce

Written by Terry Wong


If you’re in the position of managing other people at work, you may already be feeling the pressure of an ageing workforce. Why? Put simply, we are living longer, we are working longer and the risk of injury increases as we age. Unfortunately, the challenges associated with an ageing workforce aren’t going away, and are actually expected to intensify as the years go on.

Life expectancy of a girl born in 2012 is projected to be more than 94 years, and boys are expected to live until 92 – that’s a lot of savings needed to retire on! Consequently, retirement age is likely to increase – by 2035 people will probably work until they’re 70.

An ageing workforce presents a significant risk. According to Safework Australia there is a 180% increase in the number of manual handling incidents between your 20s and your 50s. One Move 4 Life customer describes what they call a “tsunami of claims” in the coming years because, for them, there is a 300% higher risk of injury for those older than 45 years.

Lifespan vs “healthspan”

There is no doubt we are living longer... but we are also living sicker.

Enter the concept of lifespan vs 'healthspan' talked about by James Hewitt from Hinsta Performance in his article titled "How to grow old like an athlete".

The full article is definitely worth a read. Here is a synopsis:

  • Determining what the human 'peak age' might be is difficult however it is clear that the 1st phase is dominated by growth, whilst declines tend to happen in the 2nd half.
  • The performance of Masters athletes can provide is with a biological model to understand what healthy, optimum aging looks like.
  • The 100m Masters World Record shows a peak in the 30s, a gentle decline through to the late 50's, followed by a rapid decline in the late 60's.

Despite the best efforts of the global anti-ageing market, there’s no such thing as a fountain of youth that can reverse Australia’s demographic trend. Rather than simply focussing on increasing our lifespans, we should also work to ensure that people are as healthy and active for as long as possible.

How do you increase healthspan? Masters athletes are veterans of track and field who compete will into their 80s, and when you look at their performance over time compared to the average population, it reveals a lot about increasing your healthspan.

Typically masters athletes hit their peak performance in their 30s and – perhaps surprisingly – retain much of that performance for a long time, followed by a rapid drop off from age 70 onwards. The goal is to hit as high a peak as you can and maintain it for as long as you can. This effectively compresses ill-health into as short a period as possible, increasing overall health during your life.

increased health span for masters athletes 1200x630

Credit: James HewittHead of Science & Innovation, Hintsa Performance

Healthspan is linked to the quality and intensity of physical activity. You’ve got to move more, move faster, move heavier and move better.

Move more

With our increasingly sedentary lives, we must find opportunities for movement. Wearable tech and a trend towards more movement-friendly work environments is definitely helping, but we should take advantage of every opportunity for movement.

Move faster

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has recently gained popularity, particularly with Cross-fitters. A typical HIIT session involves bouts of high-intensity effort, followed by varied recovery times. As little as a four-minutes investment in time has been shown to increase strength and cardiovascular endurance.

Move heavier

Once you reach the age of 30, your total physical strength is already on the decline. Sad but true! This trend continues through your 40s and by the time you are 50, expect to start losing up to 15% of muscular strength per decade. This is due to muscular atrophy, and strength training helps to counteract this problem.

Move better

But here’s the kicker, even if we move more, faster and heavier, all of this is pointless if you move badly. If your movement patterns are not sound, there’s a good chance that you won’t have the physical capacity to move more, faster or heavier, no matter how willing your mind. Everything must be underpinned by a focus on better movement, but very few people have a proper read on how well they actually move.

This is where Move 4 Life can help – it’s called MOVE IQ. Effectively it’s the movement equivalent of a mental IQ test.

Once you know your score you can work towards improvements – that’s what MOVE Training and the whole Move 4 Life SYSTEM is about.

Helping your people move without pain is essential for a productive, healthy workforce. People experiencing fewer aches, strains and pains are going to be happier, will stick with you longer and will get injured less. You probably have ageing workers who don’t yet show up on your workers’ compensation summary, but they will unless you do something about it.

You don’t need to fear your ageing workforce, but you do need to give them a hand and some options for how they might move better.

About the Author

Terry Wong

Terry Wong

Terry Wong is General Manager of Move 4 Life, the benchmark in preventing sprain and strain injuries and future-proofing an ageing workforce. Move 4 Life helps companies send employees home to their families safely each day.

A Physiotherapist by-trade, Terry has spent the last 14 years in workplace rehabilitation, occupational health, injury-prevention and training. He has held a position as Chair of the Occupational Health Group of the Australian Physiotherapy Association and is widely published on these subjects.

You can find Terry’s LinkedIn profile here.

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