Many people we see have very busy, sometimes physically demanding, jobs which by the end of the day may feel like a day’s worth of exercise. Working 7-12 hours physically and mentally drained by the end, must be exercise, right?
Surprisingly, this isn’t the same as exercising and potentially have the opposite effects to our health and well-being.
It was found that cleaners that had relatively high occupational physical activity (OPA) were more at risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and had a higher resting heart rate and blood pressure than those with lower OPA(2).
Why isn’t my job exercise?
Exercise, defined by the World Health Organisation, is a subcategory of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive, and purposeful(4). It also aims to maintain or improve our cardiac output (how much of our blood our heart pumps out in one minute).
Here are 6 potential reasons why activity from your job is not the same as exercise or leisure time activity(1):
1. Too low over too long – Job related activity is too low intensity over too long a duration to provide any benefit to your fitness or health, not putting enough demand on the heart.
2. Raises HR It raises your resting heart rate during and even after you finish work. This is a risk factor for CVD and mortality.
3. Raises BP – Prolonged static postures or heavy lifting raises your 24-hour blood pressure which is also a risk factor for CVDs. Whereas, heavy lifting over short, controlled conditions does not raise 24-hour BP.
4. Lack of Rest – There’s not enough recovery during or between activity within the occupation. This is similar to over-training, where consistent fatigue and exhaustion over consecutive days may increase risk to health problems.
5. Lack of control – Over factors such as: tasks, speed, schedule, hydration and access to rest which may contribute to the harmful effects of OPA. In contrast LTPA is performed under self-regulated conditions and the person has control over these factors.
6. Raises levels of inflammation – These inflammation markers will stay raised until the body has recovered. High OPA over consecutive days can cause prolonged and continual inflammation which increases risk of CVD and all cause mortality.
Physically demanding jobs can put too much on the body which results in the opposite effects of exercise(2). There are of course many varied risk factors for health problems and heart disease, but just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re exercising with any positive benefits.
What can I do?
It is important to be active outside of your job to have positive effects to your health.
The world health organisation recommends moderate intensity for 150mins/week or 75mins/week of vigorous intensity aerobic activity or any combination to maintain and improve heart health.
The World Health Organisation – What is Moderate vs Vigorous?
If you have a busy manual job, you are still able to gain the positive benefits from doing vigorous exercise in only one or two days a week if this is all you can manage in your schedule(3).
The idea is to improve your fitness and strength to cope with the stresses of your job and keep you happy and healthy.
Thanks for Reading.
Aran qualified as a Physiotherapist graduating from the University of Worcester in 2017. He has since been working within the NHS, rotating into different specialities such as the Emergency Department, Critical Care, Orthopaedics and MSK. He has worked with people of all ages and different levels of health and fitness, encouraging exercise as an essential part of health and wellbeing and providing the best care for his patients.
Aran has a keen interest in soft tissue mobilisation and movement re-education as part of the rehabilitation process. He has an interest in sports injuries and has experience treating players and working with the strength and conditioning coaches under the physio in Worcester County Cricket Club.
- Holtermann A, Krause N, van der Beek AJ, et al. The physical activity paradox: six reasons why occupational physical activity (OPA) does not confer the cardiovascular health benefits that leisure time physical activity does. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018;52:149-150.
- Korshøj, M., Lidegaard, M., Krustrup, P., Jørgensen, M. B., Søgaard, K., & Holtermann, A. (2016). Long Term Effects on Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease after 12-Months of Aerobic Exercise Intervention – A Worksite RCT among Cleaners. PloS one, 11(8), e0158547. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0158547.
- O’Donovan G, Lee IM, Hamer M, et al. Association of “Weekend Warrior” and Other Leisure Time Physical Activity Patterns With Risks for All-Cause, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer Mortality. JAMA Intern Med 2017;177:335–42.
- World Health Organisation. Global recommendations on physical activity for health. http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_recommendations/en/