A new study that examined the habits and health conditions of thousands of people has suggested that exercise that's done during leisure time has far more benefits than exercise performed as part of job duties, which is not only not as good for you; it has the potential to have a poor impact on health. These findings, indicating that leisure and occupational exercise has opposite, independent influences on cardiovascular disease, have been reported in the European Heart Journal.
"We adjusted for multiple factors in our analysis, indicating that the relationships were not explained by lifestyle, health conditions, or socioeconomic status," noted study co-author Professor Andreas Holtermann of the National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Denmark.
Regular exercise is considered to be beneficial for most people, though some small studies have indicated that activity at work is linked to an increase in the risk of heart disease. However, the studies were not able to rule out other factors like unhealthy lifestyles.
This research included 104,046 women and men from 20 to 100 years old. Baseline measurements were taken between 2003 and 2014, and study participants were asked how active they were during leisure and work time. The researchers followed up with the participants (at a median time of ten years), after which 9.5 percent (9,846) of study participants had died from all causes, and 7.6 percent (7,913 had experienced a fatal or non-fatal major cardiac event like stroke or heart attack.
The investigators adjusted their statistics for age, sex, health, lifestyle, and education. They found that compared to a low level of activity during leisure time, moderate, high and very high levels of activity reduced the risk of death by 26, 41, and 40 percent, respectively. However compared to low levels of work activity, high, and very high levels were linked to a 13 and 27 percent increase in the risk of death, respectively.
There were similar results when it came to cardiac events. When compared to low leisure activity levels, moderate, high, and very high levels were linked to a 14, 23, and 15 percent reduction in the risk of major cardiac events, respectively. Compared to low levels of work activity, high and very high levels were linked to a 15 and 35 percent increase in the risk of major cardiac events, respectively.
"Many people with manual jobs believe they get fit and healthy by their physical activity at work and therefore can relax when they get home. Unfortunately, our results suggest that this is not the case. And while these workers could benefit from leisure physical activity, after walking 10,000 steps while cleaning or standing seven hours in a production line, people tend to feel tired so that's a barrier," Holtermann acknowledged.
"A brisk 30-minute walk will benefit your health by raising your heart rate and improving your cardiorespiratory fitness, while work activity often does not sufficiently increase heart rate to improve fitness," said Holtermann. "In addition, work involving lifting for several hours a day increases blood pressure for many hours, which is linked with heart disease risk, while short bursts of intense physical activity during leisure raises blood pressure only briefly."
Holtermann suggested that it may be possible to improve the impact of occupational activity by rotating workstations so that people use different types of movement at work, like sitting, standing, and lifting in a healthy mixture. His team is investigating different approaches in a daycare setting.
"We are trying to vary the tasks, give recovery time, or raise heart rate so there is a fitness and health benefit," said Holtermann