It seems logical that the more you move during the day, whether at work or for leisure, the better. The benefits from moving, lifting, and bending in general make it seem as though structured exercise (lifting weights, cardio, sports activities, etc.) is not necessary for individuals with physically-demanding occupations. A recent study published in the European Heart Journal suggests otherwise—physical activity at work and physical activity in the gym are not equal. In fact, researchers concluded that physically-demanding work had a negative impact on cardiovascular health (Millard, 2021).

The Copenhagen General Population Study consisted of 104,046 adults ages 20-100 years old without pre-existing major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE). Baseline measurements were taken by means of a survey from 2003-2014 and follow-up was for a median of 10 years. MACE outcomes included heart attack, non-fatal stroke, and other coronary-related fatalities (Holtermann et al., 2021).


Results found that higher leisure time physical activity was associated with lower cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality, while higher occupational physical activity was associated with an increased risk (Holtermann et al., 2021). The difference between high levels of physical activity at work and at leisure is that cardiovascular exercise includes intervals of elevated heart rate followed by rest. There is also a recovery period for the heart and cardiovascular system to get stronger. Those with physically-demanding jobs often perform repetitive activities that keep blood pressure elevated for long periods of time, which has a negative impact on cardiovascular health. Neither the activity nor the recovery time is the same as in activities that provide cardiovascular benefit (Millard, 2021).

It can be overwhelming for those with physically-demanding jobs to consider adding in structured exercise time due to time constraints, fatigue from the work day, and other factors. One strategy could be adding small bouts of circuit training. A little exercise could go a long way in providing cardiovascular benefits (Millard, 2021). The main takeaway is that not all physical activity and types/time periods of recovery are equal, which is important for occupations and exercisers.


The UFit Team