Doing too much of this at work may shorten your life

Researchers wanted to find out the association between people who did high-intensity occupational physical exercise and mortality.

Photo: AP

Sitting at your desk might kill you slowly – everyone knows that – but there’s a new risk. Men with physically vigorous jobs have an 18% higher risk of an early death than those with sedentary work, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Typically, physical activity is linked to positive health. International guidelines, acting on previous research, encourage people to get 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise per day.


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An international team of researchers led by Dr. Pieter Coenen from the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, wanted to find out the association between people who did high-intensity occupational physical exercise and mortality.

They discovered a “physical activity paradox,” in which health benefits add up with working out as a leisure activity, but are a detrimental effect of high physical activity that comes with one’s occupation.

The study was done with a meta-analysis of 17 peer-reviewed studies which gathered data on 193,696 participants between 1960-2010.

It was found that men engaging in high-level occupational physical activity had an 18% increased risk of early death, compared with those whose work required no real active work.

The “physical activity paradox”

One way to explain the “physical activity paradox” would be to note the differences between working out in one’s leisure time and the strenuous activity of physical work. Occupational physical work includes repetitive motion, standing in one place for a long period of time, working outdoors or in poorly controlled indoor environments, and elevated heart rate and blood pressure over a prolonged period of time, without a proper period for recovery. This can lead to any number of related risks for various cardiovascular diseases.

Leisure time workouts take place in moderate or intense bursts of aerobic activity, with ample time to recover.

The study also takes into account socioeconomic class, with lifestyle habits like smoking and diet.

There was nothing similar found in women – in fact, the opposite was slightly true.

“The results of this review indicate detrimental health consequences associated with high level occupational physical activity in men, even when adjusting for relevant factors (such as leisure time and physical activity,” said the researchers in a release. “This evidence indicates that physical activity guidelines should differentiate between occupational and leisure time physical activity.”


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.