Physical Fitness Mitigates Work Stress-Related Health Risks

Staying physically fit can help guard against health problems that occur as a result of work-related stress, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Department of Sport, Exercise, and Health at the University of Basel in Switzerland conducted a cross-sectional observational study to examine the degree to which cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and self-perceived stress are associated with cardiometabolic risk factors and the overall risk score for cardiovascular diseases. The second aim was to determine whether participants' CRF levels moderate the relationship between stress and cardiometabolic risk.

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The investigators recorded the fitness levels of 197 Swedish employees, with a median age of 39.2 years, by using a bicycle ergometer test. The team also measured a number of known cardiovascular risk factors, including systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP), body mass index (BMI), total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), triglycerides (TG), glycated hemoglobin, and total cardiometabolic risk score. In addition, the researchers asked participants to provide information on how they currently perceived their stress levels.

Overall, higher LDL-C, TG, and total metabolic risk were found in participants with high stress scores. In addition, lower SBP, DBP, BMI, LDL-C, TG, and total metabolic risk were observed in participants with high cardiorespiratory fitness. Participants with high stress who also had high CRF levels had lower SBP, DBP, LDL-C, TG, and total cardiometabolic risk than participants with high stress but low or moderate CRF levels, according to the authors, who note that no significant main or interaction effects occurred for BMI, total cholesterol, HDL-C, and glycated hemoglobin.

"Better cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with more favorable levels of several cardiometabolic risk factors, specifically in participants experiencing high stress," the researchers wrote. "Higher CRF may provide some protection against the health hazards of high chronic stress by attenuating the stress-related increase in cardiovascular risk factors."

—Mark McGraw


Gerber M, Börjesson M, Ljung T, Lindwall M, Jonsdottir IH. Fitness moderates the relationship between stress and cardiovascular risk factors. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016;48(11):2075-2081.