The Lifestyle and Sport Activity of Secretaries

### Abstract

#### Purpose
The aim of the study was to analyse the sports activity and lifestyle of secretaries in Slovenia.

#### Methods
A questionnaire with 37 variables was completed by 104 secretaries from different places within Slovenia. We calculated the frequencies and contingency tables, whereas the statistical characteristics were determined on the basis of a 5% risk level.

#### Results
We established that 26% of the secretaries were obese; most of the time secretaries are sitting down, working with their fingers, and are in forced positions. 56% of the secretaries occasionally take medicines; most of their pain occurs in the neck region, of the back, the shoulder region and in the loins; other common problems include insomnia, emotional exhaustion, and headache. The majority of secretaries engage in sporting activities on the weekend and 2 – 3 times weekly; most of them practiced sport in an unorganized way, with their family or by themselves. A good 20% engaged in an organized sport in a sport club or society, where fitness can also be classified. A good 20% practiced sport in an unorganized way, with their friends. It was established that those secretaries who engaged in an unorganized sport activity were accompanied by their friends or family. Those practicing an organized sport were mainly alone.

#### Conslusion
Secretaries who are frequently active often have a lower Body Mass Index (BMI), take painkillers less often or never, and believe that sport has a great impact on their health.

#### Applications in Sports
Sports clubs and associations should prepare appropriate activities for secretaries which will fullfil their interest, health, and wellbeing.

**Key words:** working conditions, wellbeing, health.

### Introduction

Modern professions are completely different from those undertaken in the past. Cutting-edge technology, robotics, and computer science have disburdened the human labour force and thus caused an increase in the demand and supply of office workers (secretaries, administrators, clerks etc.) whose sedentary jobs are characterized by long hours in forced postures. It is clear to see that the working conditions have drastically changed. Besides that, the leisure time and leisure activity preferences have also changed. According to the results of the latest studies, sport and recreation activities are being promoted and are increasingly gaining ground (13). The effects were first seen with highly educated people as they are aware of the potential negative consequences of a sedentary lifestyle, which is why they include a suitable sport activity in their everyday life (7, 9, 10). The fact that Slovenia is among the top European Union (EU) member states in terms of the physical activity of the population is more than encouraging. However, the latest studies show that 37.91% of adult residents of Slovenia are physically inactive (11). Due to the pressure to achieve higher productivity at work, the desire to be promoted and the aspirations for a higher income there is simply not enough time to engage in sport (8). People of different professions find themselves constantly pressed for time.

The work of secretaries is highly specific. Secretaries spend most of their working time in forced postures, sitting in unventilated offices, looking at a computer monitor most of the time, memorising huge amounts of information, and this all burdens them psychically and physically. Due to the many positive impacts of sport on physical, emotional and mental well-being (the condition of being contented, healthy, or successful) and given the nature of their work, it is highly recommended that secretaries engage in a sport activity (12). Long hours of sitting in front of a computer in a bent posture are detrimental to the human body. An appropriate sport activity can alleviate or even eliminate problems caused by a sedentary job (6). What is meant by appropriate sport activity is a recreational physical activity which positively affects both health and well-being (mood, sleep and self-confidence) (1).

This study aimed to establish the correlation between the sport activity of secretaries and some selected healthy lifestyle factors. For this purpose, a sample of secretaries was surveyed to establish the correlation between secretaries’ sport activity and the characteristics of their living environment as well as between the state of their nutrition and the type of their sport activity. We also established the frequency of health problems which precondition secretaries’ active engagement in sport activities.

### Methods

#### Sample of subjects

The sample included 104 randomly selected secretaries from different parts of Slovenia. The sample was selected at the congress of secretaries. The subjects were aged 23 to 61 years, while their average age was 41. Their jobs included personal assistant, business secretary and administrator.

#### Sample of variables

The study was based on a survey questionnaire consisting of 37 questions which enquired about social, environmental and work factors, the frequency and type of sport activity, nutrition, health condition, and psychical well-being (14). The data acquisition process was carried out in compliance with the Personal Data Protection Act. Subject gave informed consent for this study. The study was approved from the Etics Commission.

#### Data-processing methods

The data were processed using the SPSS-15.0 statistical program at the Computer Data Processing Department at the Faculty of Sport in Ljubljana. The basic statistical parameters and contingency tables were calculated. The subprograms FREQUENCIES and CROSSTABS were used for the calculation. The probability of a correlation between the variables was tested by a contingency coefficient. The statistical significance of the differences was accepted at a two-way 5% alpha error level.

### Results

#### Body characteristics

Body weight and height were self-reported. BMI was calculated from those data. Average BMI for secretaries was 23.7, indicating that the secretaries participating in the study had a normal body weight.

#### Working conditions

The secretaries’ working conditions varied (Table 1): sitting, standing – straight, standing – bending, lots of walking, working with fingers, working with hands, frequent forced posture (head and neck, turn of the torso, deep bending posture). Most secretaries spend almost all day sitting on a chair, working with their fingers and are in a forced postures. 10% of them stated these three combinations and 10% the combination of sitting and working with fingers

#### Taking work home

Secretaries often take work home with them. Sometimes they have to finish assignments at home, at other times they bring home their stress, problems, and burdens. Nearly 70% of the secretaries confirmed they sometimes feel the pressures of their work when at home (Figure 1).

#### Secretaries’ current health condition and their taking of painkillers

Most secretaries (57.7%) assessed their health condition as good. As many as 56% of them occasionally take medicines. It is statistically characteristic that those secretaries who take medicines more frequently less frequently engage in a sport activity. We established that nearly 40% of the surveyed secretaries never take any painkillers. Occasional use was reported by 56% and frequent use by 5%.

#### Secretaries’ injuries in the past three months and health problems

91.3% of the secretaries reported no injuries had been sustained in the past three months. The most frequent pains occurred in the neck, shoulder girdle, and the lumbar part of the spine. Also frequently reported were insomnia, emotional exhaustion, and headache. Other pains occur less frequently.

#### Secretaries’ absences from work

We established that 75.5% of the secretaries had not been absent on sick leave in the past six months. In the same period, 17.6% of the secretaries were on sick leave for less than 14 days. The reasons for their sick leave mainly included respiratory diseases (53.3%), care for other family members (16.7%), and injury at work or outside work (6.7%).

#### Secretaries’ assessment of the impact of sport on their health

It was established that the secretaries were aware of the importance of sport activity for their health, as nearly one-half (45.6%) of them assessed the positive impacts of sport on their health as strong, whereas the rest (53.4%) assessed them as very strong.

#### Frequency of engaging in sport

Most of the secretaries engaged in sport on weekends and 2-3 times a week. Only 4.9% of them stated they never engaged in sport (Figure 2). The time most of the secretaries dedicate to sport ranges from 35 minutes to 2 hours.

#### Types of sport activities

It was established that the secretaries engaged in several different sports at a time. The most practiced sports include cycling, fast walking, mountaineering, and swimming; skiing is also popular. One-quarter of the secretaries practice racquet sports. These sports constitute a type of physical activity which one may adapt to one’s momentary well-being and general physical fitness and, what is more, they enable the venting of psychical tensions typical of a secretary’s work. Degenerative changes in the body are not an obstacle to practicing racquet sports.

#### Method of practicing sport

Most of the secretaries practice sport in an unorganized way, with their family or by themselves. A good 20% of them engage in an organized sport in a sport club or society and the same percentage practice sport with their friends in an unorganized way. Racquet sports are undoubtedly among those activities which require only a small financial input and can be practiced nearly everywhere due to the availability of sport facilities and grounds and the fact that they can be modified to suit individual needs. It was established that those secretaries who engaged in a sport in an unorganized way were accompanied by their friends or family. Those who practiced an organized sport were mainly doing it by themselves.

#### Sport inactivity and motives for sport activity and against it

The reasons for sport inactivity lie primarily in the lack of time, fatigue, and lack of motivation, as well as inadequate organization. The motives for sport activity relate to different reasons: practice sport means to relax, maintain and improve one’s health, maintain and improve one’s physical fitness, and have a good feeling from doing something for oneself.

#### Impact of sport activity on well-being

Most of the secretaries who practice sport are more self-confident and efficient in their work. A good mood and relaxation are typical indicators of well-being and the secretaries reported being full of vitality and energy. They also enjoy better sleep after a sport activity. They reported that their tenacity, strength, flexibility, and adroitness have improved. Most of them claimed they were able to better withstand psychological pressures. All but one agreed they were not tired more than usual after engaging in a sport activity. The same was true for pain in the legs. Only three of them thought that pain in their legs was due to sport activity.

#### Employers’ role in the secretaries’ sport activity

Most of the secretaries believed that sport and recreation belonged to the private sphere of each individual. 20% of them thought that their employer should support their sport activity at least morally. The same percentage of secretaries said their employer sponsored sports events and employees’ sport clubs. Only three secretaries wished for sport activities to be included in the work process (exercises in the workplace, recreational facilities in the company). The employers did not award their employees for sport achievements (Figure 3).

The selected variables (14) were cross-checked using contingency tables in the CROSSTABS subprogram of the SPSS statistical package and the results showed a statistically significant correlation between the BMI and frequency of engaging in sport (k = 0.644, p = 0.001). A more frequent engagement in sport conditioned a lower BMI. The differences between taking medication and a frequent engagement in sport were also statistically significant (k = 0.444, p = 0.034). The more physically active secretaries only rarely took painkillers or never. The assessed health condition and frequency of engaging in sport were also statistically significantly correlated (k = 0.490, p = 0.004). A more frequent engagement in sport preconditioned a good health condition. The secretaries’ opinion on the impact of sport on their health and the frequency of engaging in sport were also statistically significantly correlated (k = 0.593, p = 0.002). The physically active secretaries believed that sport had a strong impact on their health.

### Discussion

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines obesity as excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health (1977). Women generally have more body fat than men. Men and women whose fat exceeds 25% and 30%, respectively, are obese. The results of our study showed that 26% of the secretaries were obese. In an extensive study involving the adult population of Slovenia, Zaletel Kragelj and Fras (15) established that as many as 40.1% of the individuals surveyed were obese and 38.5% had a normal weight. This leads us to conclude that the surveyed secretaries had a lower BMI than the Slovenian average. With reference to the above, in the future it would be reasonable to establish the ratio between the muscle mass and fat mass.

Good working conditions are certainly an essential element of the better performance of an employee, which is why good employers always strive for a better working environment for their employees (12). It was established in our research that the secretaries mainly work in the following working conditions: sitting, standing – straight or bending, and lots of walking. The study results showed that the secretaries most frequently sit, work with fingers and in forced postures. Due to such working conditions they should do specific gymnastic exercises several times a day to compensate for their long maintained sedentary positions.

Another important finding of our study was the frequency of taking medication. It these research was established that as many as 56% of the secretaries occasionally take medicines. Other researchers have found similar findings (14). In their research was namely established that the majority of people (even 70%) suffer from various intestinal difficulties for several years as a result of taking painkillers such as ibuprofen. They reported taking painkillers all too often.

Our findings about the secretaries’ injuries in the previous three months are encouraging because as many as 91.3% of the secretaries had sustained no injuries in the said period. We established that 75.5% of the secretaries had not been absent on sick leave in the past six months. In the same period, 17.6% of the secretaries were on sick leave for less than 14 days. The reasons for their sick leave mainly include respiratory diseases (53.3%), looking after other family members (16.7%) and injury at work or outside work (6.7%). The predominant diseases in terms of the percentage of absences on sick leave were diseases of the skeleton and bone system and connective tissues, followed by injuries and infections outside work, with injuries and infections at work occupying third place. In women, frequent reasons for an absence include pregnancy and diseases in the prenatal and postnatal periods (2). This is also comparable with the findings of our research.

As regards the secretaries’ current health conditions, it can be concluded that they correspond with the Slovenian average; however, the latter is considerably higher than that in the EU. A comparison with a relevant EU study reveals that Slovenians are more burdened by health problems caused by work. Nearly every second employee reports pain in the back (45.9%), one-quarter (25.7%) complain about frequent headaches and four employees out of ten (38.2%) suffer from muscle pain. The EU averages are considerably lower (3, 5).

The analysis of the secretaries’ opinions about the importance of sport, frequency, type and method of engaging in sport yielded the results presented in the continuation. We assess the secretaries’ opinion about the importance of sport activity as good. An opinion as such is not enough, but the findings show that the secretaries corroborate their views with concrete activities. Namely, 55.7% of them practice a sport between 35 minutes and two hours mainly two to three times a week. In view of the Slovenian average established by Doupona Topič and Sila (4), namely that the Slovenian active population engages in sport 3.25 hours a week on average, we realised that the secretaries can be classified among the physically active population of Slovenia. In terms of the chosen type of sport activity, with the most popular being cycling, fast walking, mountaineering and swimming, this can be compared to the Slovenian average, for women, where high percentages also represented morning gymnastics, equestrian sports and martial arts (4). Most of the secretaries practiced sport in an unorganized way, with their family or by themselves. A good 20% engaged in an organized sport in a sport club or society, where fitness can also be classified. A good 20% practiced sport in an unorganized way, with their friends. It was established that those secretaries who engaged in an unorganized sport activity were accompanied by their friends or family. Those practicing an organized sport were mainly alone. The results of the Slovenian average show that unorganized sport activities are still predominant in Slovenia as 40.2% of people practice sport in this way. Less than 25% of the population practice organized sports (4). We believe that an employee’s opinion about sport and their method of engaging in sport (unorganized) is also influenced by their employer. Most secretaries (59.3%) answered the question about their employer’s support of their sport activity by saying that the employer considered sport activity as a private sphere of life. 25.3% of employers support sport activity at least morally.

### Conclusion

It has been established that sport activity plays an increasingly important role in the everyday life of the secretaries. Due to specificity of their work which exerts psychical and physical pressure on them secretaries are engaging in sport more frequently. This positively affects their well-being, health, general fitness, and lifestyle. In our sample, the frequency of practicing a sport and the time of practice were comparable to and higher than the Slovenian average for adults of the same age. The type of sport activity was also comparable. In our opinion, more attention should be paid to the organization of sport activities as the majority of secretaries engage in an unorganized physical activity. It was also established that the secretaries hoped for some organized types of sport that would be provided by their employers. The latter insufficiently support their secretaries’ sport activity. Most of them believe that sport is a private sphere of life, not part of work. They support sport activity only morally as they mainly fail to award sport achievements, sponsor sport events or include sport activities in the work process.

### Applications In Sport

The secretaries are aware of their work, presumptions, and life. They proved this with their low rate of absences on sick leave. They should be offered more possibilities for engaging in organized sport activities and be supported by their employers financially, not only morally. Consequently, they will reduce their excessive use of painkillers and alleviate the pain in their neck, lumbar part of the spine and shoulder girdle, which are consequences of the frequent forced postures they must adopt. At the same time, they will also improve their psychical, physical, and social life.

### Acknowledgments

Authors agree that this research has non-financial conflicts or interest. This includes all monetary reimbursement, salary, stocks, or shares in any company.

### References

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### Tables

#### Table 1
Secretaries’ working conditions

Working conditions Frequency Percentage
Sitting 101 97.1
Standing – straight 11 10.6
Standing – bending 4 3.8
Lots of walking 28 26.9
Working with fingers 54 51.9
Working with hands 35 33.7
Frequent forced posture (head and neck, turn of the torso, deep bending posture) 40 38.5

#### Table 2
Types of sport activities

Sport Frequency Percentage
Cycling 53 57
Fast walking 47 50.5
Swimming 32 34.4
Mountaineering 32 34.4
Skiing 28 30.1
Racquet sports 25 26.9
Dancing 22 23.7
Rollerblading 18 19.4
Aerobics 17 18.3
Morning gymnastics 13 14
Yoga 8 8.6
Volleyball 7 7.5
Pilates 4 4.3

### Figures

#### Figure 1
Percentage of feeling the pressures of work at home

![Figure 1](/files/volume-15/452/figure-1.jpg)

#### Figure 2
Percentage of engaging in sport

![Figure 2](/files/volume-15/452/figure-2.jpg)

### Corresponding Author

assist. Jera Zajec, Ph.D.
University of Ljubljana
Faculty of Education
Kardeljeva ploščad 16, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia, Europa
<jera.zajec@pef.uni-lj.si>
gsm: 0038640757335

Jera Zajec, Ph.D. is the assistant professor in Faculty of Education in Ljubljana. She is a member of sport cathedra. Her bibliography contains article all over the word. Her interests in researching are wilde and contains development in motopedagogic for preschool children to adults.