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Occup Environ Med. 2017 May;74(5):328-335. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2016-103878. Epub 2016 Nov 21.

Non-occupational physical activity levels of shift workers compared with non-shift workers.

Author information

Center for Nutrition, Prevention and Health Services, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven, The Netherlands.
Department of Public and Occupational Health, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.



Lack of physical activity (PA) has been hypothesised as an underlying mechanism in the adverse health effects of shift work. Therefore, our aim was to compare non-occupational PA levels between shift workers and non-shift workers. Furthermore, exposure-response relationships for frequency of night shifts and years of shift work regarding non-occupational PA levels were studied.


Data of 5980 non-shift workers and 532 shift workers from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Netherlands (EPIC-NL) were used in these cross-sectional analyses. Time spent (hours/week) in different PA types (walking/cycling/exercise/chores) and intensities (moderate/vigorous) were calculated based on self-reported PA. Furthermore, sports were operationalised as: playing sports (no/yes), individual versus non-individual sports, and non-vigorous-intensity versus vigorous-intensity sports. PA levels were compared between shift workers and non-shift workers using Generalized Estimating Equations and logistic regression.


Shift workers reported spending more time walking than non-shift workers (B=2.3 (95% CI 1.2 to 3.4)), but shift work was not associated with other PA types and any of the sports activities. Shift workers who worked 1-4 night shifts/month (B=2.4 (95% CI 0.6 to 4.3)) and ≥5 night shifts/month (B=3.7 (95% CI 1.8 to 5.6)) spent more time walking than non-shift workers. No exposure-response relationships were found between years of shift work and PA levels.


Shift workers spent more time walking than non-shift workers, but we observed no differences in other non-occupational PA levels. To better understand if and how PA plays a role in the negative health consequences of shift work, our findings need to be confirmed in future studies.


Physical activity

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