July 12, 2011

USA: For Men, Even a Desk Job Brings More Exercise Than Unemployment

NEW YORK, NY / The Wall Street Journal / Health Blog / July 12, 2011

WSJ's blog on health and the business of health

By Katherine Hobson


One of the only upsides of unemployment, you’d think, would be the free time that you’d have to do things that can be tough to squeeze into a normal work day — like going to the gym, or gardening, or just walking around the grocery store.

But at least with men, the extra time doesn’t translate into more activity. A study conducted by researchers at the National Institute on Aging and published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that even men employed in sedentary jobs (say, blogging, to pick something out of a hat) get more daily physical activity than men unemployed for reasons other than poor health.

The notion is that the commute plays a role in the amount of physical activity you rack up in a day. Even men who had non-active jobs achieved a certain baseline of activity first thing in the morning that unemployed didn’t reach until noon, study co-author Dane Van Domelen, a post-baccalaureate fellow at the NIA, tells the Health Blog.

But the same relationship didn’t hold for women — and it’s not clear why. Those employed full- and part-time and the healthy unemployed had similar levels of activity throughout the day. That’s not because the women without paid jobs were getting extra exercise from chasing kids, though; activity levels for women out of the paid workforce to care for house or family were actually lower than for women out of the workforce for other reasons.

The results reflect the daily activity levels of 1,826 adults, tracked by accelerometer over at least four days.

Researchers also found, not shockingly, that job type predicts daily activity levels. Men with active jobs had 22% more daily weekday activity than men with sedentary jobs; women with more active jobs were 30% more active than their counterparts with desk jobs. Given how many jobs are sedentary, and how much time we spend at work, it points to the importance of increasing activity connected with work, the authors say.

“People need to better integrate physical activities into life,” Tamara Harris, senior investigator of the study and chief of the NIA’s geriatric epidemiology section, tells the Health Blog. That means walking to the train station rather than driving there, parking at a lot farther from work, taking short breaks at work — or using a treadmill desk or workplace stationary bike.

Our colleagues at the WSJ reported last year on Labor Department stats showing that as the unemployment rate rose, the average person aged 15 and up (employed, unemployed and retired) spent 17 fewer minutes at work every day. But that extra time went right to two of America’s greatest pastimes: TV (up 12 minutes) and sleep (up 6 minutes).

There was pretty much no change in the amount of time spent volunteering, participating in religious activities, exercising or participating in educational activities.

Image: iStockphoto

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