It was found that participants with high occupational physical activity (OPA) levels had a dementia incidence rate of 1.48, which was significantly higher than in people who engaged only in leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) at home or at the gym
Physical activity is not just beneficial but compulsory for good health. This science-backed idea has been driven into the mind of every health-conscious person, and rightly so. Getting at least 30 minutes of physical exercise every day can reduce the risk of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Physical activity, according to many studies, is also associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia in later years.
Different types of physical activities
What many people fail to account for is that there’s a huge difference between physical activity done for leisure and occupational physical activity. The former is separate from your daily professional activities.
Occupational physical activity is the type of physical activity that’s a part of your professional life. Whether you stay on your feet for long hours as a field executive, engage in light to moderate lifting or perform manual labour at a worksite, occupational physical activity (OPA) more often meets the definition of hard labour rather than leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) at home or at the gym.
But does OPA have the same beneficial effect on the brain and help prevent dementia as LTPA does? A new study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports says that it does not.
Effect of occupational physical activity on dementia
For a longitudinal study on the effect of OPA on dementia, a group of researchers collected self-reported questionnaire data from 4,721 males aged 40-59 years in 1970-1971.
The health of these participants was tracked from the time they turned 60 years and until 2016. The participants’ age, socioeconomic status, marital status and psychological stress was adjusted and their health behaviours, blood pressure and incidence of OPA and LTPA was also accounted for.
It was found that participants with high OPA levels had a dementia incidence rate of 1.48, which was significantly higher than in people who engaged in LTPA only. Participants who had higher levels of LTPA also had a lower dementia incidence rate than those who led sedentary lives. The researchers calculated that the risk of dementia was 55 percent higher in those who engaged in regular OPA as compared to those who engaged in LTPA and concluded that LTPA and OPA are differentially associated with dementia. The current recommendations regarding the beneficial effect of physical activity on dementia only refer to LTPA and not to OPA.
Understanding the effect of OPA on dementia, the study authors concluded, requires further and in-depth research. They also suggested that finding healthier ways to do hard labour or managing occupational hazards better can also help minimise the risk of dementia as well as other health issues in later life.
The researchers have already started collecting relevant data from healthcare services that cover assistance to those who engage in OPA to devise such useful interventions to make OPA safer for the brain, cognition and to reduce dementia risks. They also hope that as and when they do devise such interventions, the companies that require OPA will cooperate and ensure appropriate changes in working conditions and procedures.
For more information, read our article on Fitness.
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