Research Says Playing Hard, Rather Than Working Hard Leads to Better Health


People with office based, sedentary lifestyles will likely be aware that being active in our leisure time is essential for maintaining good health, but those with more physical occupations may feel that a hard day of manual labor is all the exercise they need. Not so, according to a new study that suggests working out on your own time is critical, and cannot be replaced by the day job.

In results published by the European Heart Journal, more than 100,000 men and women in Copenhagen, aged between 20 and 100-years, were monitored over a 10-year period to track their health outcomes. In the largest study of its kind, participants were placed into four groups depending on their activity levels. By looking at causes of death within the group, it became clear that those who lived a more active lifestyle in their leisure time experienced a lesser risk of mortality.

When compared with those that had “low” leisure time physical activity, people that were considered to have “very high” leisure time physical activity were found to have 40% reduced risks of early death. On the other hand, subjects that had higher physical levels of activity due to their occupation were more at risk of death from cardiovascular disease and other ailments. It appears that these different types of activity have opposite and independent relationships with our health.

“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”, says study co-author, Professor Holtermann. “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.”

Further research will be needed to investigate the reasons that work and leisure time activity plays such different roles in our health, but it is theorized that the amount of time spent exercising needs a closer look. Working for several hours on a production line could lead to high blood pressure, whilst brief spells of activity at leisure are sufficient for raising our heart rate, avoiding the negative impact on blood pressure and cardiovascular health.

“Societies need adults with sufficient health and fitness to work longer since the retirement age is increasing,” says Holtermann. “We need to find ways to make active work good for health.”

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