It’s widely accepted that having an active lifestyle is important for weight management. So you’d think having an active job would be good for your health, right?
A new, international study by the University of South Australia has revealed the science is a bit more nuanced than that.
Those with physically demanding jobs who were sedentary while off the clock, the survey found, were at a higher risk for obesity than those with more of a work-life balance.
Digging into the research.
The study observed the lifestyles of 807 workers, looking for any connections between work and leisure time as it relates to obesity.
By monitoring their movement throughout the day, as well as having them keep a fitness diary, researchers categorized the participants into four categories based on their activity level:
1. “Ants,” or those “active throughout the day, both at work and at leisure”
2. “Chimpanzees,” or those with “a relatively even distributed composition of work and leisure behaviors”
3. “Koalas,” or those who “are more sedentary and less physically active at work and at leisure, while also spending more time in bed”
4. “Lions,” or those “very active at work, but mostly sit around at home and stay in bed longer”
But which category is healthiest?
Perhaps the lion isn’t the king of the jungle, after all.
Despite what we may consider a healthy lifestyle, “Our research shows that ‘lions’—people who spent much of their work time being active, but most of their leisure time sedentary or in bed—tended to have the highest risk factors for obesity,” says University of South Australia researcher Dot Dumuid, Ph.D.
It would seem it all comes back to balance, with the research suggesting a combination of physical activity and rest dispersed throughout the day may be more important than a lot of isolated physical activity at one time.
Having an active lifestyle is good, after all, but so is recovery time and rest.
“If your body does not get enough time to recover,” Dumuid notes, “it can cause a state of chronic heightened inflammation which can induce adverse effects, such as storing excess energy as fat.”
How do we achieve balance?
Simply put: Keep it moving!
The key findings of this study highlight the importance of having active and leisure time, both on and off the clock.
There are plenty of ways to incorporate movement into your desk job if you fall under the “koala” category. Try taking walks on your lunch break, opting for the stairs instead of the elevator, or a quick Pilates desk routine.
And if your job keeps you on your feet, try not to immediately crash when you get home. “Someone who is very active at work, but crashes in front of the TV each night is not getting the right balance either—the body needs a balance of activity and recovery throughout the day,” Dumuid says.
This research offers a new way to consider what makes or breaks a healthy lifestyle and demonstrates why an hour at the gym just isn’t enough if you’re sedentary the other 23. Similarly, an active job doesn’t guarantee a healthy worker.
But no matter which animal category you fall under, we could all benefit from more balance in our day-to-day wellness routines.