Is A Physically Active Job Good For You?

Heart rate data from the Polar H10 through its mobile app
Heart rate data from the Polar H10 through its mobile app

Most healthy adults are encouraged to get about 150 minutes of more intense workouts per week.  There are a lot of benefits to getting your heart rate up, working muscles harder, building endurance, and generally just relieving mental stress when working out but what if you have a physically active job.  Do you you still need to hit the gym?  Is a physically active job good for your health?  Turns out for men, it isn’t.  They die sooner.  

So why would a job that has a lot of physical activity be not so good for men in particular?  According to a study references in an article appearing in Time, the hypothesis as to why men don’t benefit from their physically intense jobs is because the physical activity is for an 8-hour+ period.

Heart rate and blood pressure are elevated for a prolonged period of time, as opposed to most leisure workouts at the gym which typically last about an hour or so.  

Shorter, leisurely workouts are good for us.  Imagine working out at the gym for 8 hours.  That’s nuts because we know it’s too much and that pretty much explains why “working out” at a job all day isn’t good for us either.

It’s good for the heart to get it elevated during the day during physically intense activities but too much of a “good” thing apparently is too much of a good thing. 





Interestly, the same negative effect wasn’t seen in women with physically active jobs, although the studies appear to focus more on men.  

Having a physically demanding job myself led me to research this particular topic.  I know in my case that I rarely have the energy to do a workout after a hard day at work. 

When I work the day shift I come home with my muscles spent.  I hardly feel like jumping on the treadmill to pound my aching bones.  I simply need to give my body time to recover.

When I work second shift, 2pm-10-30pm, I have the night to recover but many times I still wake up in the morning to incredibly sore muscles and aching bones.  I sure don’t feel like going to the gym in the morning.  My body doesn’t recover until about 11 in the morning and by then I need to cook dinner for my family and prepare to go to work and start the whole cycle over again.

Another issue is that my eating habits are bad, especially when working the dayshift.  Who feels like coming home from a hard day at work and cooking a healthy meal, or any meal for that matter?  Not me!

So that leads to a lot of frozen foods, fast foods, and poorly balanced meals.  

Also, I tend to have an increased appetite, especially for junk food during a particularly hard day.  Carbs and caffeine keep me going…for a while.  Then I crash even harder.  Our bodies and minds just don’t crave healthy food when they’re overworked.  





However, when I work second shift, my normal shift, I have time and energy in the day to prepare better meals.  I also tend to take better dinners to work with me.  I also have more time and energy to spend at the grocery store to plan better meals.  

My shopping cart looks like a teenage boy chose the foods when I grocery shop after a hard day.  It’s full of junk.  I just don’t feel like chopping up vegetables and fruits or meal prepping when I can barely move.

Since temporarily being on the day shift for the past several weeks I’ve gained 6 pounds!  Thank goodness I’ll be going back to second shift in a couple weeks.  

The studies didn’t look at shift differences but working the night shift also has its own health consequences so I’m not out of the woods there either.

So if you do have a physically demanding job what are you supposed to do to improve your health?  

Seems like the research there is severely lacking.  Even when poor eating habits, smoking, and excessive drinking are factored out, men with prolonged physical activity on the job still have a higher risk of heart disease and dying sooner.

Another issue with many jobs is that the muscle groups being worked are the same ones throughout the day.  This leads to injuries and other muscle groups that aren’t being worked.  

I do know that what helps me are activities that help my body and mind recover.  A leisurely bike ride in the evening when working day shift does wonders for me.  I seem to recover physically more quickly, and I just feel better emotionally after a mentally stressful day.  Swimming may be another great option because it’s not pounding muscles that are already overworked.

But there just aren’t studies to back this up.  It’s just my personal observations. 

Apparently, what’s really needed are longer or more frequent breaks for employees working physically demanding jobs but getting an employer to sign off on that is unlikely.  

Men, in particular, with physical jobs need to be monitored more closely for heart disease by their physicians.  

The only other option is to get a job that is less physically intense.  For men with heart disease this might be a good idea, although it’s not easy to find a different job, especially if your work experience makes it difficult to qualify for other types of positions.

So, I really don’t have good news or good advice for you.  Do you want your two minutes back from reading this article?  Hey, at least it gave you a little break from your back breaking job.