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The exercise paradox


Blog post produced and written by Clinic Manager and Lead Sports Massage Therapist Jason Dodd. A former British Junior Number 1 Squash player, Jason specialises in specific sporting injuries and running related injuries.

How many times have you heard someone say ‘I am active at work though so I don’t need to do much activity outside of this’?  This is a fairly common statement, especially by those involved in manual labour and trades such as builders, gas engineers, etc….

BUT, how true is this?  Is it actually a good thing and are these people at an advantage over those who sit at computers all day or who have fairly ‘sedentary’ jobs in comparison.

A recent study would suggest that those who are involved in more ‘active’ jobs are in fact at greater risk of poorer levels of health.  We are fully aware of the benefits of physical activity, it is something that is drummed into us on an almost weekly basis.  Not a day goes by where we are not told we should be doing more physical activity and we are ever seeing more adverts for gym memberships pop up on our computer screens, reminding us to get active.  But the relationship between Leisure Time Physical Activity and Occupational Physical Activity have been shown to have drastic differences and it is these differences which could actually put those involved in Occupational Physical Activity at higher risks of mortality.  This is known as the Physical Activity Paradox.

So what does this all mean?

There are 6 areas as to why Occupational Physical Activity may be more detrimental to your health and not have the same effects as Leisure Activity.  Some of the information below may surprise you and go against all logic but it is important to be aware of the facts here;

1. Occupational Physical Activity is of too low intensity or too long duration for maintaining or improving cardiorespiratory fitness and cardiovascular health.

In order to improve your cardio-respiratory system, you need to work at levels which are between 60-80% of your maximal aerobic capacity.  These are known as your training thresholds and are commonly used in the athletic population for improving fitness.  The issue in Occupational Physical Activity is that exercise duration usually lasts 8 hours and rarely exceed 30-35% of your maximal aerobic capacity.  This puts an un-due stress on the cardio-respiratory system in the same way higher levels of stress increase the heart rate and breathing pattern.

2. OPA elevates 24 hour Heart Rate

Physical activity increase your heart rate, this is the reason we perform physical activity, in the hope we can make the heart stronger and therefore more healthy.  BUT, an increased Heart Rate over a prolonged period of time is actually bad for your heart.  The heart needs time to recover and to rest.  High levels of physical activity during occupational activity results in a greater number of heart beats over the course of the day which ultimately puts more strain on the heart.  Prolonged elevated heart rate is an independent risk factor for Cardiovascular Disease and mortality.

3. Occupational Physical Activity including heavy lifting or static postures elevates 24-hour blood pressure.

We all know the dangers of elevated blood pressure.  Elevated blood pressure can best be described as the effect that happens when you use a garden hose and put your fingers over the opening to increase the speed in which the blood flows.  If you imagine your artery/veins to be the same as the garden hose, then you can see the impact that this increased blood pressure can have on the body.  When we lift heavy objects, our blood pressure will increase as we need to feed the muscles the blood and oxygen in order to be able to perform their task of muscle contraction.  Carrying out this biological process for long periods of time can have damaging effects.  Not to mention the increased risks then of injury.  We all know that regular lifting of heavy objects leaves us more open to increased risk of injury, which leads us to our next point.

4. Occupational Physical Activity is often performed without sufficient recovery time.

Long periods of physical activity without sufficen trest can lead to fatigue and exhaustion which ultimately may increase Cardio-vascular disease risk.  In the sporting world this would be described as over-training.  Sports people all know the dangers of this.  It can range from increased injury risk to an increase in levels of anger due to tiredness.  For most physically active jobs, it involves working periods of between 7-12 hours per day for several consecutive days throughout the course of the year.  If we asked you to walk/run for 7-12 hours per day, every day of the year, you would not look at it as being ‘healthy’! In fact many of us would say it is ridiculous….. and rightly so!  Without sufficient rest our bodies systems will not function accordingly and our risks of disease and injury will be heightened.

5. Occupational Physical Activity is often performed with low worker control

Workers who perform manual tasks often have little control over a variety of factors such as the working task, speed it is performed at, the working schedule, the clothing they must wear, the surrounding environment and the psychosocial stressors.  All these factors can contribute to the overall deterioration of health amongst these workers.  In comparison, Leisure activity can be performed under safe and regulated conditions (with a personal trainer or gym instructor for example), on a controlled schedule (when it fits and suits the individual), at the speed relative to the individuals needs on that particular day (after a tiring day at work the intensity can be dropped) and they can also determine the task completed (the method of training – weights, cardio, etc….).  It is these factors which help to show the important differences between these two activity formula’s.

6. Occupational Physical Activity increase’s level’s of inflammation

Markers of inflammation (the cells within the body that create inflammation) increase during physical activity and remain elevated until the body has recovered. This inflammation is good as it helps

So what can you do to help yourself?

First and foremost, being aware of the exercise paradox is crucial.  Changing our beliefs that just because we are active at work means we are staying fit and healthy is essential.  Look at ways that you can alter your working day (if possible), it may be that you divide the current workload between you and your team a little more, or potentially look at bringing on board other team members who can help you in your day to day life.  Ensuring regular physical activity outside of work can also be beneficial as it helps you gain control of your activity levels rather than having them dictated by the working environment.  Your diet too can play a huge role in this. Replacing saturated fats with ‘healthier’ options such as fruit and vegetable is always going to have wide benefits.

There are some really small changes that can be made which will ultimately lead to huge changes in your daily life and result in a healthier you.  It may be that you need help with your training goals and plans or that you do not feel you are able to exercise at the moment due to aches and pains. If this is the case then feel free to get in contact with a member of our Team and we will help you on your journey to a healthier and happier you.

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