My brain hurts….I’m too tired to exercise!

A recent study looked at how work conditions affect people’s activity levels outside of work. If you’ve ever had a day when you just felt wiped out physically or mentally, and you skipped a workout, you’ll find some validation in this research.

The study took place over a long time period (12 years). It showed that self-reported physical activity outside of work was less likely amongst those who changed to a job with greater physical or psychological demands. It also showed that workers in jobs that didn’t allow much control over how they used their skills were less likely to increase their physical activity.

We can probably agree that, if your job is physically demanding, you might need a little less exercise, at least in the areas where your job is demanding. For example, if your job involves walking all day, going for a walk at night is not productive, but strength training or stretching might be. A manual handler doesn’t benefit as much from weight training as a sedentary worker. That’s not to say that material handlers shouldn’t strength train if they want to – they should just focus on different muscles. And they might benefit more from cardiovascular exercise and stretching. “Overall physical fitness” involves cardiovascular, strength, endurance, and flexibility. Even physically demanding jobs can be complemented by exercise that focuses on the other components of fitness.

Perhaps the more interesting finding pertains to workers in cognitively demanding jobs. Carrie has personally discovered that, on a day that involved serious brainwork, she is less capable of following a Zumba class. My brain hurts and she claims to be too “tired” to exercise. Fortunately, Carrie has also learned that she is perfectly capable of exercise that is easier to follow on these days, so a Tabata or a run are more realistic.

The study didn’t look into the time of day that people exercise, but Josie has found that exercise before work allows her to focus better. Perhaps, exercise is prescriptive – it’s exactly what the doctor ordered to help, both mentally and physically.

We’ve been asked lately for suggestions for exercises that will help people get back into the work groove. In response, we created a Return-to-work Exercise Challenge for employers to send to their employees, and a “Get strong” poster. (We also offer a stretching poster.) The underscored links will take you to the licences in our new store.

The lesson? Exercise is important for everyone, so find an activity that complements your job, so you have the energy to keep up your routine!


Biswas A, Dobson K, Gignac MA, de Oliveira C, Smith PM. Changes in work factors and concurrent changes in leisure time physical activity: a 12-year longitudinal analysis. Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2020 [epub ahead of print]. doi:10.1136/oemed-2019-106158.

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