Psychological distress (stress) has been linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases and is exacerbated by a range of workplace factors. Physical activity has been shown to alleviate psychological distress. Previous pedometer-based intervention evaluations have tended to focus on physical health outcomes. This study aimed to investigate the immediate and long-term changes in psychological distress in employees based in Melbourne, Australia after their participation in a four-month pedometer-based program in sedentary workplaces.

Methods: At baseline, 716 adults (aged 40 ± 10 years, 40% male) employed in primarily sedentary occupations, voluntarily enrolled in the Global Corporate Challenge, recruited from 10 Australian workplaces to participate in the GCC Evaluation Study, completed the Kessler 10 Psychological Distress Scale (K10). Of these, 422 completed the K10 at baseline, 4 months and 12 months.

Results: Psychological distress reduced after participation in a four-month workplace pedometer-based program, which was sustained eight months after the program ended. Participants achieving the program goal of 10,000 steps per day or with higher baseline psychological distress had the greatest immediate and sustained reductions in psychological distress. Demographic predictors of immediate reduced psychological distress was having an associate professional occupation, younger age, and being ‘widowed, separated or divorced’.

Conclusions: Participation in a workplace pedometer-based program is associated with a sustained reduction in psychological distress. Low-impact physical health programs conducted in groups or teams that integrate a social component may be an avenue to improve both physical and psychological health in the workplace.