Manual Labourers Are More Likely To Die Younger, Study Suggests

In Individual, Industry News by Matthew Tagg

We frequently hear how sedentary lifestyles and job roles, which see people sitting for the majority of the day, are contributing to larger waistlines. But new research now suggests that people who work in physically demanding roles have a greater risk of dying early than their more sedentary counterparts.

The finding, discovered by scientists in the Netherlands, reveals a so-called “physical activity paradox” where exercise at work can be harmful, but beneficial to health when performed in leisure time.

Pieter Coenen, a public health researcher at VU University medical centre in Amsterdam, said it’s unclear why the disparity exists, but, in his opinion, it may reflect the different types of exercise people get at work compared with those in their leisure time.

“While we know leisure-time physical activity is good for you, we found that occupational physical activity has an 18% increased risk of early mortality for men,” Coenen said. “These men are dying earlier than those who are not physically active in their occupation.”

Other Factors In Play

However, other researchers have weighed in saying the reason manual labourers are at greater risk of dying early is because they often lead unhealthier lifestyles, in which diet, smoking and alcohol consumption all conspire to reduce their life expectancy.

But Coenen isn’t convinced. He says a half-hour run in your leisure time increases your heart rate and you feel well afterwards. However, when you’re physically active at work it’s a totally different type of activity, according to Coenen. That’s because you are inevitably working eight hours a day with limited periods of rest. Lifting, manual handling and repetitive movements are all often part of a physically active job.

“Our hypothesis is that these kinds of activities actually strain your cardiovascular system rather than help you to improve the fitness of your cardiovascular system,” Coenen said.

For the research, the scientists combined the results from 17 previously published studies, which gave them data on nearly 200,000 people. While most of the studies they included did take lifestyle factors, such as smoking and drinking alcohol, into account, Coenen concedes that not all of the studies his team analysed completely ruled out their harmful effects.

International health guidelines recommend that people carry out around 30 minutes of intense physical activity every day. The problem for construction workers and people who work in other physically demanding roles is that they often do not undertake the leisure time exercise. Coenen says they are in “double trouble” as a result.

The findings of the study were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine

Coenen is urging everyone in a manual job role to not ignore the benefits of being physically active in their leisure time, even if they believe they do enough physical activity at work. Physical activity guidelines should be followed, regardless of what job a person does.

Despite manual labourers doing lots of physical activity during the day, they actually have a greater risk of dying early than people in more sedentary roles. Are lifestyle factors, such as smoking and alcohol consumption, conspiring to reduce life expectancy?

I have over 18 years experience in the Medical Insurance Industry, much of that spent working for Aviva Health in the Distribution team. I joined Premier Choice in 2015 and in that time I have been helping clients to develop the best possible approach to protecting their health. My understanding of how insurers work puts me in a strong position to negotiate the best solutions on behalf of our clients.