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Chronic workplace stress and insufficient physical activity: a cohort study
  1. Anne Kouvonen1,
  2. Jussi Vahtera2–4,
  3. Tuula Oksanen2,
  4. Jaana Pentti2,
  5. Ari K P Väänänen2,
  6. Tarja Heponiemi5,
  7. Paula Salo2,6,
  8. Marianna Virtanen2,
  9. Mika Kivimäki2,7,8
  1. 1School of Sociology, Social Policy & Social Work, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, UK and Centre of Excellence for Public Health (NI), Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, UK
  2. 2Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Turku and Helsinki, Finland
  3. 3Department of Public Health, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
  4. 4Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland
  5. 5National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland
  6. 6Department of Psychology, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
  7. 7Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  8. 8Institute of Behavioral Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Anne Kouvonen, School of Sociology, Social Policy & Social Work, Queen's University Belfast, 6 College Park, Belfast BT7 1LP, UK; a.kouvonen{at}


Objectives To examine whether exposure to workplace stressors predicts changes in physical activity and the risk of insufficient physical activity.

Methods Prospective data from the Finnish Public Sector Study. Repeated exposure to low job control, high job demands, low effort, low rewards and compositions of these (job strain and effort–reward imbalance) were assessed at Time 1 (2000–2002) and Time 2 (2004). Insufficient physical activity (<14 metabolic equivalent task hours per week) was measured at Time 1 and Time 3 (2008). The effect of change in workplace stressors on change in physical activity was examined using fixed-effects (within-subject) logistic regression models (N=6665). In addition, logistic regression analysis was applied to examine the associations between repeated exposure to workplace stressors and insufficient physical activity (N=13 976). In these analyses, coworker assessed workplace stressor scores were used in addition to individual level scores.

Results The proportion of participants with insufficient physical activity was 24% at baseline and 26% at follow-up. 19% of the participants who were sufficiently active at baseline became insufficiently active at follow-up. In the fixed-effect analysis, an increase in workplace stress was weakly related to an increase in physical inactivity within an individual. In between-subjects analysis, employees with repeated exposure to low job control and low rewards were more likely to be insufficiently active at follow-up than those with no reports of these stressors; fully adjusted ORs ranged from 1.11 (95% CI 1.00 to 1.24) to 1.21 (95% CI 1.05 to 1.39).

Conclusions Workplace stress is associated with a slightly increased risk of physical inactivity.

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