Background: Differences in how shift workers accumulate physical activity (PA) while at work and in leisure time, on days when they are working at night, during the day, or on non-work days, are largely unexplored. The aim of this study was to improve understanding of physical activity patterns in two groups of shift workers, and to measure variations according to their shift schedules.
Methods: This pragmatic pilot study was conducted in two workplaces. Employees in Workplace 1 (n = 10) were required to drive for most of their shift. Workplace 2 was a manufacturing company where most of the employees' (n = 30) occupational tasks were completed while standing. Use of time was assessed using the adult version of the Multimedia Activity Recall for Children and Adults (MARCA) administered by telephone interview. Three MARCA interviews were conducted with each participant, in order to capture a typical profile of a day-shift day, a night-shift day and a non-work day, using a two-day recall for each interview. Participants were asked to wear the activPAL3™ activity monitor, for 7 consecutive days. Paired and independent t-tests were used to compute significant differences between day-shift, night-shift and non-work days within and between workplaces.
Results: The total number of days quantified for the MARCA data was 192 days (64 day-shift, 60 night-shift and 68 non-work days). Workplace 2 participants reported more physical activity and less sedentary behaviour on day-shift and night shift days than on non-work days. Time spent in sedentary behaviour was similar on day-shift, night-shift and non-work days in Workplace 1. Workplace 1 participants were more sedentary (p = 0.003) and engaged in more light intensity PA (p = 0.031) on day-shift and night-shift workdays, than those from Workplace 2. Sleep times were lowest on day-shift days.
Conclusion: As the occupational tasks for participants in Workplace 2 involved physical activities, the findings do not support the conventional view that shift workers are more sedentary than those who only work during the day. Rather occupational tasks appear to be a more important determinant of physical activity patterns both on work and non-work days than varying shift patterns.