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Physically active jobs result in earlier death for men, new research finds

Media release

Men who worked in physically active jobs were more likely to die earlier than those working in largely inactive jobs, new research involving Curtin University has found.

The research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine today, concluded that men who engaged in a high level of physical activity at work had an 18 per cent increased risk of early death compared to those who had a low level of occupational physical activity.

Lead Australian author John Curtin Distinguished Professor Leon Straker, from the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University, said the research examined the link between occupational physical activity and mortality among 193,696 people from around the world.

“We know the importance of physical activity in leisure time for the prevention of non-communicable diseases has been well documented, but this research shows there may be an increased risk of early death from working in a physically active job among men,” Professor Straker said.

“This study shows that men who took part in a high level of occupational physical activity had an 18 per cent higher risk of early death compared to those who only reported a low level of physical activity in the workplace. However, the opposite pattern was observed for women with female workers who took part in a higher level of physical activity in the workplace experiencing a decreased risk of early death compared to those who worked in physically less active jobs.

“This is the first study to systemically review and find evidence consistent with the physical activity paradox, a principle that suggests beneficial health outcomes linked with leisure-time physical activity but detrimental health outcomes for those engaging in a high level of occupational physical activity.”

Professor Straker said the research suggested that physical activity guidelines should be updated to differentiate between physical activity undertaken at work and home.

“International guidelines encourage people to engage in 30 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity daily, but these guidelines do not distinguish between occupational, leisure time and transportation related physical activity,” Professor Straker said.

“This research shows the physical activity guidelines may need to differentiate between the different types of physical activity because it indicates a higher risk of early death for men who work in physically active jobs.”

The research, which also involved researchers from VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, The National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Copenhagen, Denmark, the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, Denmark, The University of California in Los Angeles, The University of Queensland in Brisbane, the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and the University College Dublin in Ireland, can be viewed here.