Full-Time Workers Fall Short on Exercise

Part-timers have better chance to find time for workouts, researchers report

Steven Reinberg

Steven Reinberg

Published on May 02, 2005

MONDAY, May 2, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- If you work all day long, you probably spend precious little time exercising, what with the siren call of TV, the Internet and video games, a new study finds.

"People who work full time and people who work part time have different amounts of discretionary time," explained lead researcher Meghan Warren, a pre-doctoral fellow in epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota. "Among full-time workers, people who watch more TV spend more time surfing the Web and playing video games [and] exercise less than people who don't do those things in their free time."

Warren and her colleagues collected data on 4,498 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 1999 and 2000.

The study was to be presented Monday at the American Heart Association's annual conference on cardiovascular disease, epidemiology and prevention, in Washington, D.C.

The researchers found that people who worked full time and spent at least five hours engaged in sedentary activity each day did about 11 fewer minutes of physical activity, compared with full-time workers who didn't spend any time watching TV, playing video games or surfing the Web in their free time.

However, part-time workers who spent at least five hours a day doing sedentary activities tended to exercise about 11 minutes more than part-time workers who didn't spend any time doing sedentary activities.

In addition, almost 30 percent of the participants took a treadmill test to determine their physical fitness. Among these 1,319 men and women, those who spent at least five hours watching TV or using the computer during their time off were slightly less physically fit compared to those who didn't spend any leisure time doing sedentary activities.

Warren noted that exercise doesn't have to be done all at once. "The recommendation of 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week can come in 10-minute blocks of time," she said. "Things like walking to lunch, parking away from work and walking can give you the recommended amount of exercise for heart health."

"Full-time workers need to take a look at how they spend their free time," Warren added. "This may allow them to free up time for exercise. There is time in every adult's day to exercise."

"The image of the 'couch potato' may be misleading when it comes to characterizing the physical activity patterns of most Americans," said Dr. David L. Katz, M.D., director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. "Most of us are not lazy; in fact, we work very hard. It's just that the hard work we do all day does not involve our muscles."

Katz noted that all that work wears people out, making it tough for someone to tackle physical activity during down time. "But that's just what we should do, if we want to promote our health and control our weight. Regular physical activity is vital to both," he said.

"The message here is that busy people cannot simply hope to find time for physical activity; we have to make that time," Katz said. "Physical activity is important and rewarding enough to be a priority in all of our lives. So consider cutting your TV time in half, and allocating the other half to something active. You'll likely be around to watch TV for quite a few extra years that way."

Two other reports scheduled for presentation at the meeting related to diet and exercise and air pollution and heart disease.

In the first report, which was to be presented Saturday, researchers assigned 38 patients who were at risk for heart disease and diabetes an exercise and diet program or no treatment. The diet was a Mediterranean-style diet, according to lead researcher Dr. Robert J. Petrella, an associate professor in the Schulich School of Medicine at the University of Western Ontario.

After eight weeks on the program, the patients on the diet and exercise program, in addition to changes in body weight, reduced blood pressure and improved blood sugar. In addition, the arteries of these patients, which were stiff at the start of the program, became "un-stiff," Petrella said.

Stiffness of the arteries is a sign of impending organ dysfunction, "like the heart starts to fail," Petrella said.

"Getting the right diet and activity can not only improve your weight and blood pressure, but it can really improve the way your blood vessels function," Petrella said. "That's really going to protect you from any poor outcomes as a result of diabetes or high blood pressure."

In the second study, which was to be presented Sunday, researchers from the University of Washington, who had previously found that long exposure to air pollution is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, report that the risk is even greater among obese people.

The researchers collected data on 63,940 postmenopausal women who were in the Women's Health Initiative Study and who had never had heart disease. The women were followed for six years. The investigators found that for each increase in exposure to air pollution, there was a 62 percent increase in fatal and nonfatal incidence of heart disease.

"Chronic air pollution exposure was associated with overall increased incidence of cardiovascular disease," the investigators wrote. "A secondary analysis suggested risk may be further elevated among those with greater obesity, but not modified by other traditional risk factors."

More information

The American Heart Association can tell you more about fitness and exercise.

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