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Physical sports curtail sick leave

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Companies would benefit by encouraging employees to take part in physical sports, reducing sick leave, according to a prospective study. Physically demanding sports lowered sickness absence among workers in industrial, administrative, and service sectors and especially those in sedentary jobs, the cohort study in the Netherlands has confirmed.

For workers with sedentary jobs risk of absence was less if they had engaged in sport, though not frequently, compared with never doing sport, after adjustment for age, sex, alcohol intake, and smoking. They also had a better chance of recovery—within five days—but clocked up a higher proportion of short absences.

Mean duration of sick leave was significantly lower and about 20 days less at baseline for workers who practised sport compared with those who did not or those who had never done so in their lifetime. The largest differences occurred in jobs with a large sedentary component, at 25 and 50 days less, respectively.

The data form part of the study on musculoskeletal disorders, absenteeism, stress, and health (SMASH) determining work risk factors for musculoskeletal injuries to the lower back, neck, and shoulder. This study compared sickness absences in over 1700 men and women aged 18–59 years working for 24 hours minimum a week for at least a year in 24 companies. Data on work and sporting activities were collected from questionnaires at baseline and yearly for three years and on sick leave from company records.

The study confirms other studies, most of which are cross sectional or interventional.

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