Newswise — Employees' levels of physical fitness and activity significantly affect the quality and quantity of work performed, suggests a study in the January Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Led by Nicolaas P. Pronk of Health Partners, Minneapolis, the researchers analyzed health and lifestyle factors in 683 workers in various occupations completing a health risk assessment. Levels of physical activity, estimated physical fitness, and obesity were then compared with indicators of job performance, as rated by the workers themselves.

The workers' physical activity and physical fitness had a significant impact on their work performance. More physically active workers reported higher work quality and better overall job performance. As physical fitness increased, so did the quantity of work performed. In addition, more fit workers needed to expend less extra effort to do their work.

Obesity had a significant but negative impact on work. Twenty-two percent of workers in the study were classified as obese, and 4.5 percent as severely obese. Obese employees reported more difficulty getting along with coworkers, while severely obese workers missed significantly more days of work.

Physical inactivity and obesity have well-known negative effects on health and health care costs. Ill health obviously leads to increased health costs because of absences from work. However, relatively little is known about how these risk factors affect indirect costs, including costs related to decreased productivity on the job.

"[L]ifestyle-related modifiable health risk factors significantly impact employee work performance," Dr. Pronk and coauthors conclude. Workers who are at least moderately fit and more physically active have higher work quality and better overall job performance. In contrast, obesity may affect relationships in the workplace while severe obesity leads to excess absences from work. Further studies will be needed to see if weight management, physical activity, and fitness programs can improve work performance, including on-the-job productivity.ACOEM, an international society of 6,000 occupational physicians and other healthcare professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.

Register for reporter access to contact details

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (Jan-2004)