The science of physical activity at work remains understudied despite widespread acceptance that it plays an important role in health. Now, Colorado School of Public Health PhD student Mr. Kenneth Scott and researcher Dr. Ray Browning have published a comprehensive review of methods to monitor physical activity and tools for occupational exposure scientists in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.
According to the study, the intensification of work and increased length of the working day have likely impacted the health of sedentary and active workers alike. Too little physical activity can lead to an energy imbalance in which a person consistently consumes more energy than they expend. The evidence on occupational physical activity (OPA), though, indicates that there can be too much of a good thing. Excessive physical activity is associated with repetitive stress injuries, heat illness, fatigue and heart damage. It is possible that the type of physical activity people get at work has different physiological impacts than the type they get in the gym.
Occupational health practitioners stand to benefit from understanding the strengths and limitations of physical activity measurement approaches, such as accelerometers in smartphones, which are already ubiquitous in many workplaces and in some worksite health programs. Such methods can be used to improve health as well as study it. Though no single technology yet measures physical activity perfectly, and there is no single gold standard for OPA measurement, a combination of methods and advanced tools can improve accuracy.
So far, objective measurements have rarely been used to examine the relationships between specific occupational factors, physical activity levels and health outcomes. More accurate and precise measurement may help clarify its relationships with stress and cardiovascular disease risk, as well as with arthritis, depression, injury risk, and other health conditions.