Physiochat: Working hard does not make up for exercise

Both the butterfly and the bird fly but one touches to the clouds whiles the other’s greatest height is the mango tree.

Many a time, physiotherapists advise their patients to exercise but the response is “my work is physically demanding and it’s just like exercising”. Yes, your work might be that much demanding but never expect it to improve any component of fitness.

This is one of the biggest health related misconceptions in society. It is to be known that occupational physical activity (work) is no substitute for leisure time physical activity (exercise/ workout) no matter how similar the two may seem.

Let’s focus on the effects on the heart and blood vessels’ health (how well the heart functions to supply the rest of the body with oxygen and nutrient rich blood) today.

For an exercise routine to be beneficial to health, its intensity should cause at least 60% increase in the body’s oxygen usage for short periods of time. Unfortunately, our physically demanding jobs are either too low in intensity or too long durations to meet such criteria. So, the intensity and duration of our works are often too low and too long to have beneficial effects on the heart and blood vessels.

That’s why the trotro mate who sprints to catch his bus all day (too long duration) and you, the hard worker who carries packages from one end of the office to the other (too low intensity), both gain no health benefit from your respective activities. 

During physical activity, our heart beats faster (heart rate) and our blood pressure rises as compared to when we’re resting. This is more so during workouts or exercises but research shows that over a long period of consistently exercising, the level of heart rate and blood pressure when you are at rest, reduces.

This is good health indicator. The same cannot be said of occupational physical activity (work). The increase in the heart rate and blood pressure during work is sustained after long periods resulting in increased resting blood pressure and heart rate.

In actuality, physically demanding work over a long period result in increased blood pressure which is a negative health indicator for the heart and blood vessels. 

It has also been established by recent research that occupational physical activity causes a biochemical increase in inflammation markers like C reactive protein until the body has fully recovered.

Another concern is that the continuity of work or occupational physical activity throughout the week (Monday to Friday) reduces the potential of recovery.

This can result in sustained inflammation which is a believed pathway that leads to atherosclerosis and other heart and blood vessel diseases.

Exercise, workout or leisure time physical activity on the other hand allows the body ample time to recover from the kind of stress it produces; when you work out for 45 minutes a day, the body has many hours to recover till the next session but work is 8 hours per day for 5 days of the week.

Finally, one glaring difference between occupational physical activity and a workout routine is one’s control over the activity. Due to protective clothing or costuming, psychological stressors and surrounding environment there is no control over the schedule, speed and tasks involved in working activities.

Also, the demand of productivity takes away self-regulation in occupational physical activity. 

Despite the encouragement to exercise, it must be graded, controlled and individually tailored particularly for starters. One can always walk in to see a physiotherapist to plan a healthy and safe regimen.

Take just 30 minutes to take care of your body at least twice every week otherwise the body will be forced to “take care” of itself how it knows best.

Remember, a butterfly is a butterfly and a bird… to be continued