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Why leisure-time activity and work-time activity are not the same

In the modern world there are many complexities. Life can keep us so busy that we lose track of important health priorities. In fact, it might not be possible to keep up with all of life's demands.

Physical activity is one health priority that sometimes, for one reason or another, is set aside. Or, sometimes we can mistakenly believe that our job keeps us physically active, and, therefore they do not need to exercise. However, there are some emerging paradoxes with that assumption.

Leisure Time Activity

Systematic reviews and cross sectional observational studies have demonstrated the benefits of recreational exercise. In a sample population of people, leisure time exercise, or activity performed outside of a work place setting (walking, running, playing sport, ect) is associated with fewer back pain episodes. Also, as an added benefit, regular, moderate-intensity, vigorous, or light physical activity can reduce the risk of many chronic conditions, reducing morbidity and all -cause mortality.

Occupational Activity

However, in stark contrast with leisure-time physical activity is occupational activity. For example, there is an association of increased episodes of low back pain in individuals who have physically demanding jobs. Frequent exposure to heavy lifting at work, or moving in awkward postures such as twisting, bending, squatting and kneeling at work are all associated with increased risks of back pain. So physical activity at work vs during leisure have opposing, diverging effects.

In my experience, some patients feel that they are physically active enough at work, and therefore may not need to exercise at home. However, it is important to understand that the setting that exercise and physical activity takes place has been shown to have diverging effects on our health.

So, as part of a healthy lifestyle, it is important to set aside time for some recreational physical activity. Simply walking is a good start. Or, alternatively, pursuing an activity that you enjoy and feel is 'fun' is also a beneficial strategy. It's more important to do the exercise than to do the right type of exercise. It's highly personal. So, pursuing a physical activity that you perceive as fun, may increase the chances you will do the activity. You may need to trick yourself into performing the activity...So, perhaps set aside a small amount of fun-time today to get started with your leisure time physical activity!


B Amorim A, Simic M, Pappas E, Zadro JR, Carrillo E, Ordoñana JR, Ferreira PH. Is occupational or leisure physical activity associated with low back pain? Insights from a cross-sectional study of 1059 participants. Braz J Phys Ther. 2019 May-Jun;23(3):257-265. doi: 10.1016/j.bjpt.2018.06.004. Epub 2018 Jun 28. PMID: 31130170; PMCID: PMC6531628.

Shiri R., Falah-Hassani K. Does leisure time physical activity protect against low back pain? Systematic review and meta-analysis of 36 prospective cohort studies. Br J Sports Med. 2017;51(19):1410–1418.

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