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Sheltering Arms Blog

Why Physical Activity at Work Isn’t the Same as Exercise

Posted on: October 27, 2020 by

By: Bryan Gilreath, PT, DPT, OCS

One of the most common statements I hear from patients is “I already do a lot of physical activity at work, so why do I need to exercise?” It’s a great question and comes from people who are doing physical work on a regular basis such as delivery drivers, cleaners, or construction workers. While a patient’s efforts at work should be applauded, the reality is that the benefits of recreational physical activity far outweigh any activity performed at work.

Recreational activity has many benefits, especially for patients looking to improve their cardiovascular health to help with overall endurance for daily activities, pain reduction, or to address general health issues like obesity.

Some of the reasons that recreational activity is better than work activity include:

  1. Work-related physical activity is typically performed over the course of the day and is either not intense enough or is over such a long period of time that it reduces any cardiovascular benefits. Improvement in cardiovascular fitness is achieved with high intensity and short duration periods of activity.
  2. Work-related heavy lifting or even static postures like assembly line work that are performed over prolonged periods will increase blood pressure and keep it maintained over a longer period of time, which is actually detrimental to heart health. Recreational activity that involves heavy lifting is performed over shorter periods of time and gives the participant control over the intensity and duration of the session. These factors help improve cardiovascular function and thus ultimately lower blood pressure.
  3. Work-related physical activity is also typically performed without the worker being able to control how the task is done. The demands of the job typically dictate things like working outside, ability to hydrate, and the intensity of which the job is performed (rest and recover). Over time, this leads to feelings of being overworked, not being more physically fit.

So, if you already have a physically demanding job, what exercise strategies could you use to help improve your fitness levels and improve your physical condition? I always recommend some of the following:

  1. Walking is an easy and low cost way to improve your general fitness and can be done almost anywhere. Pick an appropriate length of time when starting out and try varying your pace to challenge yourself. For example, walk 5 minutes at an easy pace, 3 minutes fast, 5 minutes easy pace, 5 minutes fast, 2 minutes easy pace.
  2. Interval training is another easy way to make gains in both strength and cardiovascular fitness without being overly complicated. Pick three exercises (you don’t have to use weights) such as squats, over-head shoulder presses, and calf raises. Perform 10 squats, 15 over-head shoulder presses, and 20 calf raises, then rest for two minutes and repeat the process five times.

The bottom line is never overestimate the benefits of your work activities and never underestimate the benefits of targeted recreational activity to help you stay physically fit and keep doing a great job at work.