The Employed are more Physically Active

working man

Men who work full time have higher levels of physical activity than healthy men who are unemployed or are employed part time. Women's physical activity and employment status are not as strongly correlated.

According to a cross sectional study published in August of 2011, employment status correlates to physical activity level. The paper, entitled Employment and Physical Activity in the U.S. (Tamara Harris, et al.), found that full-time employed men were most active. 

The study broke participants into groups based on gender, employment status, and employment activity level. Employment status was defined as full time (35+ hours a week), part time (1-35 hours a week) and unemployed (excluding those who were disabled or unable to work do to health reasons). Employment activity level was broken down into active and sedentary positions. A hip accelerometer was used to determine activity level and time at which activity was performed for study participants.

The study found surprising gender differences in physical activity level.  In general, men were found to have higher levels of physical activity than their female counterparts. Physical activity and employment status in men was positively correlated. Full-time employed men were the most physically active. In fact, men with full-time jobs classified as sedentary were found to have greater physical activity levels, even on weekdays, than healthy, unemployed men. Men who were part-time employed were found to have a physical activity level that was lower than full-time employed men, but higher than healthy, unemployed men.  

Women, on the other hand, showed little difference between physical activity level as a function of employment status. Women employed full-time with sedentary jobs demonstrated the least amount of mean physical activity when compared to women employed part-time in sedentary jobs and healthy, unemployed women. Part-time working women, regardless of job classification, tended to be the most physically active by measurements of mean activity level and percent of time spent doing moderate to vigorous physical activity.  However, differences in activity level for women tended to be minor and did not follow any overarching trends based on employment level.

Not surprisingly, both men and women with active jobs showed significantly higher physical activity levels. Employed men had higher activity levels during weekdays whereas employed women showed more consistent activity levels throughout the week. The results for the study are shown below.

Note: Bars represent adjusted means±95% CI. Indicated differences are significant at *p<0.05, **p<0.01, and ***p<0.001. Sedentary=0–99 counts; light=100–759 counts; lifestyle=760–2019 counts; MVPA=≥2020 counts.

EFT, employed full-time (sedentary jobs only); MVPA, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity; NEH, not employed (not due to health problems); PA, physical activity; Sed, sedentary

In an earlier post (Stress and Telomere Length) it was mentioned that women employed full-time were found to have shorter telomeres, a sign of premature aging. In addition, exercise has been shown to activate telomerase, an enzyme that extends shortened telomeres (see Physical Activity, Stress and Telomere Length). Could shorter telomeres in women employed full-time be the result of the working women's tendency to get less physical activity, or is it a direct link to stress as the study's author's hypothesized (Employment and work schedule are related to telomerase length in Women, CG Parks, et al.)?

In summary, physical activity increases as employment increases in men, but the trend, although not as pronounced, is the opposite in women. Significant increases in physical activity are observed in people of both genders employed in active jobs.  

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