Long Working Hours, Low Wages, and Physical Activity
Edited by: Luxshimi Nageswaran
Wake up. Work. Eat. Sleep.
For many people in Canada, this is an everyday routine. Long hours, multiple jobs, low wages, and poor work conditions are common for some Canadians, especially individuals in the low socioeconomic status group. Socioeconomic status is defined as the social standing or class of an individual or group measured as a combination of education, income, and occupation (1).
According to the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, Canadians (18-64) should get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity per week (2). This goal will help individuals achieve health benefits and prevent many health disorders and diseases (2). Unfortunately, many people cannot reach these goals due to employment constrictions. Beyond the long duration of paid work hours, there are additional time burdens such as commuting, schedule inflexibility, and schedule disruptions¾all of which relate back to place of employment (3) Meanwhile, workers in the high socioeconomic group have greater schedule control and fixed hours (3). For some, it is unrealistic to incorporate physical activity into to their life and therefore it is not prioritized.
Unfortunately, working long hours for low wages can lead to adverse health effects. A study titled Long working hours, socioeconomic status, and the risk of incident type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis of published and unpublished data from 222 120 individuals explored the relationships between employment, socioeconomic, and health. In this article, the link between longer working hours and type 2 diabetes was apparent only in individuals in the low socioeconomic status group (4). Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disease which is highly preventable with exercising (5). Of course, there are other factors that play a role such as eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and genetics predispositions (5).
Individuals with a low socioeconomic status work in difficult work conditions would benefit tremendously from physical activity. How can individuals in low socioeconomic groups achieve this physical activity goal when they have employment barriers? According to Popham and Mitchell (2007), employers could organize and facilitate physical activity in their place of work to encourage the importance of exercising (6). As well, employers could encourage active commuting options such as walking or biking by providing bike racks or walking routes (6). In addition, work sites can promote physical activity by providing on-site gyms or walking paths, and flexible breaks for physical activity participation (7). These workplace suggestions may not work for everyone, but would greatly help in achieving those 150 minutes of weekly exercise.
Canadians (aged 18-64) should aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity per week
Those with a lower socioeconomic status face employment-related burdens such as long hours, commuting, schedule inflexibility, and schedule disruptions.
Workers in the high socioeconomic group have greater schedule control and fixed hours
The link between longer working hours and type 2 diabetes was apparent only in individuals with a low socioeconomic status
Employers should aim to create spaces for physical activity promotion: on-site gyms, flexible work time breaks, facilitate group activities, etc.
Socioeconomic status [Internet]. American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association; [cited 2021Aug12]. Available from: https://www.apa.org/topics/socioeconomic-status
Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Adults ages 18-64 years: An Integration of Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour, and Sleep [Internet]. CSEP. [cited 2021Aug12]. Available from: https://csepguidelines.ca/adults-18-64/
Buxton OM, Okechukwu CA. Long working hours can be toxic. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. 2015;3(1):3–4.
Kivimäki M, Virtanen M, Kawachi I, Nyberg ST, Alfredsson L, Batty GD, et al. Long working Hours, socioeconomic status, and the risk of incident type 2 DIABETES: A meta-analysis of published and unpublished data from 222 120 individuals. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. 2014Sep24;3(1):27–34.
Simple steps to preventing diabetes [Internet]. Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. 2021 [cited 2021Aug12]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/disease-prevention/diabetes-prevention/preventing-diabetes-full-story/#:~:text=Type%202%20diabetes%20is%20largely,healthy%20diet%2C%20and%20not%20smoking.
Popham F, Mitchell R. Relation of employment status to socioeconomic position and physical activity types. Preventive Medicine. 2007;45(2-3):182–8.
Promoting physical activity at work [Internet]. Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. 2016 [cited 2021Aug12]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-prevention/worksites/worksite-physical-activity-environment-and-obesity-prevention/