How does occupational physical activity influence health? An umbrella review of 23 health outcomes across 158 observational studies

Bart Cillekens, Matthias Lang, Willem van Mechelen, Evert Verhagen, Maaike A Huysmans, Andreas Holtermann, Allard J van der Beek, Pieter Coenen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


OBJECTIVE: Physical activity (PA) has substantial benefits across a range of health outcomes. There is uncertainty about the PA-specific health effects, and in particular, the occupational domain. In this umbrella review, we synthesised available evidence on the associations between occupational PA (OPA) and health-related outcomes (including cancer, all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease). This work informed the development of WHO's guidelines on PA and sedentary behaviour (2020).

DESIGN: Umbrella review of systematic reviews.

DATA SOURCE: We performed a literature search in PubMed, Web of Science, Embase, CINAHL and Sportdiscuss from database inception to 2 December 2019.

ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR SELECTING STUDIES: We included systematic reviews if they contained a quantitative assessment of OPA and its relationship with at least one health-related outcome.

RESULTS: We summarised the evidence of 17 reviews covering 23 unique health-related outcomes. We graded most evidence as low or very low, or moderate quality. We found health benefits for those engaging in high versus low OPA for multiple cancer outcomes (including colon and prostate), ischaemic stroke, coronary heart disease and mental health (ie, mental well-being and life satisfaction). High OPA was associated with unfavourable health outcomes for all-cause mortality in men, mental ill health (ie, depression and anxiety), osteoarthritis, and sleep quality and duration.

CONCLUSIONS: We found favourable associations for most health-related outcomes with high OPA levels, but we also found some evidence for unfavourable associations due to high OPA levels. At this point, there is a need for better quality evidence to provide a unequivocal statement on the health effects of OPA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1474-1481
Number of pages8
JournalBritish journal of sports medicine
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

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