Hard Work

Patterns of Work, Leisure, and Physical Activity

How much are physical activity guidelines helping? If you judge by recent trends in NHANES data, not too much. In addition, two recent papers give us reason to think this shouldn’t be surprising. That’s because fitting physical activity into lives already consumed with work can be quite a challenge. So patterns of work, leisure, and physical activity can interact to get in the way of healthier physical lives.

No Discernible Effect from Guidance

Back in 2008, The U.S. government published its first ever guidelines for physical activity. It was a big deal. Experts said the guidelines describe “one of the most important steps that Americans of all ages can take to improve their health.” Last year, the government issued an update for those guidelines.

But according to a new study in JAMA Network Open, Americans have not become one bit more active since the first guidelines came out. In fact they became less active. Yang Du and colleagues analyzed NHANES data from 27,343 adults starting in 2007 and going through 2016.

Sedentary time went up. The proportion of adults who spent more than six hours daily sitting and who had too little aerobic activity went up from 16 to 19 percent. Obviously someone didn’t take that guidance to heart.

Fatigue After Work

One factor to explain this might be work-related fatigue. Labor experts report that workplace fatigue is a growing problem. Many people are working longer hours, especially older workers. And with longer hours, work-related fatigue begins to be a real problem for some workers.

A recent study in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health tells us that when fatigue after work is an issue, physical activity at leisure goes down. The effect is especially strong in older workers.

Balance Between Work and Leisure Activity

One more piece of this puzzle comes from a study just published in the International Journal of Obesity. Nidhi Gupta and colleagues examined patterns of physical activity – both at work and leisure. They found four distinct patterns based on the balance of physical activity between those two domains – work and leisure. They also looked at multiple measures of obesity: waist circumference, BMI, and body composition.

What they found was a correlation of better balance between work and leisure activity with less risk for obesity. On the other hand, many subjects with more physically demanding jobs were more sedentary at home. And those individuals had more risk for obesity.

Clues for Better Health and Well-Being?

Taken together, these observations give us a lot to think about. Of course, all of these studies were observational. They give us clues for interventions that are worth testing. And they certainly suggest that the balance between patterns of work, leisure, and physical activity deserves attention.

Click here for further reporting on trends in sedentary time and here for more on workplace stress.

Hard Work, photograph © Eneas De Troya / flickr

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August 1, 2019

One Response to “Patterns of Work, Leisure, and Physical Activity”

  1. August 03, 2019 at 3:36 am, Mary-Jo said:

    Whether it’s ‘exercise’ or just incorporated in ADL (activities of daily living), the human body needs ‘movement’ — enough to use its muscles, joints, organs, and bones to keep its condition and function optimal. Even then, health issues still arise, but moving one’s body is not an afterthought, but a priority. The ‘workaholic’ vibe in the USA, ,and now emerging in other countries as being, somehow, virtuous has to change.