Physically Active at Work? It’s Not as Healthy as Leisure Exercise

Going for a brisk walk after a long day at work may be better for your heart than getting all of your exercise on the job.

New research suggests that while current health guidelines indicate that leisure-time activity and physical activity at work are created equally when it comes to heart health benefits, this may not be the case after all.

Leisure-time exercise — whether it be taking a walk, jogging or hopping on your Peloton bike after a hard day’s work — can improve heart health, but only getting your exercise on the job seems to increase heart risks.

This is what’s known as the “physical activity paradox,” said study author Andreas Holtermann, a professor at the National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“Leisure physical activity leads to fitness, improved health and well-being, but work physical activity leads to fatigue, no fitness gain, and elevated heart rate and blood pressure over the day without sufficient rest,” Holtermann said.

For the study, researchers asked close to 104,000 people (aged 20 to 100 years) from the Copenhagen General Population Study to rate their leisure-time and employment physical activity as low, moderate, high or very high.

There were more than 7,900 major cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, and about 9,850 deaths overall during an average of 10 years of follow-up. The more leisure-time physical activity a person reported, the lower their risk of dying or experiencing a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event.