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25 Jobs That Burn the Most Calories – How to Be More Active at Work

Your desk job might literally be killing you. According to the American Heart Association, sitting for long periods has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Even worse, a 2015 study found that the more time you spend sitting, the greater your risk is for early death. As if that wasn’t bad enough, this is true even among physically active people. In other words, a daily dose of exercise doesn’t necessarily cancel out the repercussions of a sedentary job.

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This is bad news for most of us since more people than ever – 86% of Americans, according to U.S. News & World Report – now work at desk jobs. The rise in sedentary jobs, which leads to a corresponding increase in serious health conditions, also means higher health care costs.

Here’s what you need to know about how your job might be affecting your health and what you can do about it.

The Costs of a Sedentary Job

The largely sedentary nature of most jobs is a problem for many Americans who are already facing crippling health care expenses. According to the annual Milliman Medical Index Report, the average family of four can expect to pay $12,378 in 2018 in combined premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for the most common employer-sponsored health plan. That’s about $1,000 per month in health care costs – an increase of $1,122 per year, or $100 per month, from 2017. And this trend is likely to continue into 2019 and beyond.

Pro Tip: One alternative option would be to have a high deductible healthcare plan and then use a Health Savings Account from Lively. This can help reduce your monthly expenses.

Although there’s not much you can do about the rising cost of premiums, you can significantly reduce your out-of-pocket expenses by working to stay in good health. That means eating right and exercising regularly.

Unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two and a half hours per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise plus two days a week of strength-training activities. Yet only one in five Americans meets these basic guidelines, according to data from the 2017 National Health Institute Survey.

Could a Highly Active Job Be the Answer?

Clearly, pricey gym memberships and at-home workouts aren’t always the answer; Americans just aren’t finding ways to squeeze fitness into their day. Could a job that comes with built-in fitness benefits be the solution?

To help answer this question, we gathered data on some of the most physically active jobs, measuring their level of fitness benefit by the average amount of calories they burn. These calorie counts are for the average calories burned per hour for a 175-pound person – the combined total average weight for both males and females – using statistics gathered by the 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities.

Keep in mind that the actual amount of calories burned will vary from person to person depending on individual weight and actual level of activity. For example, although police officers can burn a reported 318 calories per hour, that figure is for periods of physical exertion, such as while making an arrest, and not for time spent sitting at a desk filling out paperwork, which would be no different than the average office job. By way of comparison, the Compendium reports that the calorie burn for a desk job is 119 calories per hour.

To compare the fitness benefit versus the potential financial gain or loss from working in these jobs, we’ve also included their average annual salaries. On one hand, your combined savings on out-of-pocket health care costs plus gym memberships could be upwards of $5,000 per year, depending on your individual health care coverage. On the other hand, switching to a more active job could mean a deeper pay cut for you than the potential money saved.

Also keep in mind that some salaries can vary widely. Winning jockeys, for example, can make well over six figures, but the average jockey doesn’t make anywhere near this. Salaries can also vary depending on whether you’re entry-level or in a management position. The figures below are only average salaries, as provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Jobs That Burn the Most Calories

Calorie Tracker Exercise Smart Watch Outdoors

From the lowest calorie burn per hour to the highest, these are the top jobs to consider if you’re looking to stay physically active.

  1. Dog Walker
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 159
    • Average Annual Salary: $23,160 (search for jobs on Rover.com)
  1. Airline Flight Attendant
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 238
    • Average Annual Salary: $50,500
  1. Electrician
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 262
    • Average Annual Salary: $54,110
  1. Nanny
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 278
    • Average Annual Salary: $22,990 (search for jobs on Care.com)
  1. Massage Therapist
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 318
    • Average Annual Salary: $39,990
  1. Landscaping or Grounds Maintenance Worker
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 318
    • Average Annual Salary: $28,560
  1. Garbage Collector
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 318
    • Average Annual Salary: $51,581
  1. Police Officer
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 318
    • Average Annual Salary: $62,960
  1. Retail Sales Associate
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 318
    • Average Annual Salary: $23,370
  1. Construction Worker
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 318
    • Average Annual Salary: $33,450
  1. Farmer
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 381
    • Average Annual Salary: $69,620
  1. Steel Mill Worker
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 421
    • Average Annual Salary: $43,200
  1. Bicycle Tour Guide
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 460
    • Average Annual Salary: $28,100
  1. News Photographer
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 476
    • Average Annual Salary: $41,940
  1. Roofer
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 500
    • Average Annual Salary: $38,970
  1. Housekeeper
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 516
    • Average Annual Salary: $24,630
  1. Mover
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 516
    • Average Annual Salary: $25,870
  1. Fitness Instructor
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 516
    • Average Annual Salary: $39,210
  1. Coal Miner
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 525
    • Average Annual Salary: $58,910
  1. Crab Fisher
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 556
    • Average Annual Salary: $50,000
  1. Forester
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 557
    • Average Annual Salary: $38,840
  1. Horse Jockey
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 579
    • Average Annual Salary: $40,000
  1. Firefighter
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 635
    • Average Annual Salary: $49,080
  1. Valet
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 714
    • Average Annual Salary: $23,250
  1. Commercial Diver
    • Average Hourly Calorie Burn: 953
    • Average Annual Salary: $55,270

Factors to Consider Before Switching Careers

Construction Worker Horizon Silhouette Sunset

As you can see, some of these jobs burn a great deal of calories, and that comes with an undeniable health benefit. But switching from a desk job to an active job might not be the best idea for your personal situation. For example, my husband put on a few pounds when he switched from his highly active electrician job to an IT desk job. However, the IT job paid significantly more.

Some of these more physical occupations come with some definite drawbacks, including:

1. More Stress

Although firefighting ranks high on the list for calorie burn, and the salary isn’t too shabby, the job comes with its share of stress. Firefighters must stay in great shape so they’re prepared to put out fires and save lives while also putting their own lives on the line. Unsurprisingly, firefighting ranks as the No. 2 most stressful job in a 2018 study by CareerCast, No. 1 being a career in the military.

Stress is also linked to a number of health conditions, including a 1.4 times higher risk of stroke. The stress of a job like firefighting can also have health repercussions on members of a firefighter’s family.

2. Higher Risk of Injury (or Even Death)

According to Alan Hedge, a human factors and ergonomics researcher at Cornell University, jobs that require physical exertion – especially lifting and twisting – can lead to injuries. The most common of these are back injuries, which can easily lead to disability, forcing workers into an unhealthy sedentary lifestyle anyway.

Some of the jobs on this list are also dangerous, with crab fishing topping the chart. Although it’s significantly safer now than when it was first popularized on the TV show “Deadliest Catch,” it still ranks No. 1 on the most dangerous jobs in America, according to CNN. Logging, or forestry, comes in at No. 2.

3. Lower Pay

According to the 2015 National Health Institute Survey, many adults reported frequently standing at work, but most of their jobs were of the lower-paying variety, such as those in food service, farming, construction, and cleaning and maintenance.

Jobs with the least amount of standing included those in the legal, financial, and computer fields. These are also typically the best-paying jobs. So, depending on your current situation, it may not make economic sense for you to switch jobs, even with the money you’d save on health care and gym memberships. If you currently work at a desk job, ask yourself if it makes more sense for your health and money to switch to a more active job or to stay put.

How to Make Your Desk Job Healthier

Office Desks Computers Meetings Open Space

If getting a more active job doesn’t work for your situation, don’t despair. To reap significant health benefits and a longer lifespan, you don’t have to do much to make your job healthier; just regularly interrupt prolonged periods of sitting with physical activity. According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, those who sat for longer than 90 minutes at a stretch had a 200% greater risk of early death, but those who sat for stretches of less than 30 minutes had a 55% lower risk of death.

Here are some suggestions for how to break up your workday with movement.

1. Take Frequent Movement Breaks

If you sit at a desk for a living, make sure to take breaks every 30 minutes, even if it’s just to get up and stretch. Keith Diaz, the lead author of the Annals of Internal Medicine study, recommends standing up and moving or walking for five minutes every 30 minutes.

Your movement doesn’t have to be intense. Even leisurely movement can have a profound impact on your overall health. A 2017 study from the Karolinska Institute found that replacing even 30 minutes of sitting with low-intensity, everyday activity, such as household chores, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by 24%.

2. Rethink Using a Standing Desk

Standing desks have become a popular workplace trend in the effort to counteract the effects of prolonged sitting. However, according to Alan Taylor, a physiotherapy expert at Nottingham University, the trend may have more to do with commercial sales than any real health benefit – and at a cost of $200 to $2,000 per standing desk, it’s no wonder.

Further, according to a 2017 study, standing desks may actually be harmful. The study found that standing next to your desk creates physical discomfort and decreased mental function, both of which could lead to other health – not to mention productivity – problems. A 2018 study conducted over a 12-year period found that standing for prolonged periods was actually worse than sitting, increasing the risk of heart disease twofold.

This may be because, according to Hedge, “The heart has to work a lot harder, the body has to work a lot harder, because you’re battling gravity when you are standing up.” He reports that standing has been linked to health issues like varicose veins, fatigue, and feet and back issues.

So forget about the standing desk and just take those movement breaks every 30 minutes.

3. Have Walking Meetings

Taylor recommends taking frequent walk breaks throughout the day, an idea supported by a 2015 study conducted by the University of Missouri, which advises a 10-minute walk break after six hours of continuous sitting. If it’s an option, try walking with your colleagues for meetings instead of using a conference room.

4. Sneak a Workout Routine Into Your Day

Instead of simple movement breaks, you can easily account for the recommended 30 minutes a day of physical activity by sneaking in small rounds of exercise, which break up bouts of sitting and give you the recommended dose of daily fitness.

The activity can be as simple as doing a few jumping jacks to get your heart rate up or doing any number of the 10-minute workout routines you can find with a quick Internet search. The American Heart Association stated in 2008 that physical activity should be a minimum of 10 minutes long to reap the full benefits, but new government guidelines released in November of 2018 state that any activity, of any duration, is better than none.

5. Take Advantage of Company Fitness Facilities & Wellness Programs

If your workplace offers them, take advantage of on-site fitness facilities. At an average cost of $48 dollars per month for a gym membership, on-site facilities could save you cash and help with your fitness goals. For a list of the top 15 companies with the coolest onsite gyms, check out Glassdoor’s 2018 list.

Wellness programs have suffered a bad rap lately for possibly not leading to any real results, according to The New York Time. Nevertheless, they continue to strike a note with both employers and employees. From organic lunches to in-office massages, “wellness” efforts are generating a lot of buzz in today’s workplaces, and it certainly can’t hurt to take advantage of anything your company might offer in the way of health services. If you’re looking to join a company that prioritizes wellness, take a look at Glassdoor’s 2018 list of companies with top wellness programs.

Final Word

It’s true what they say: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The more you work to keep yourself healthy, the less you’ll have to shell out in the long run in increased medical expenses. Though a typical gym membership costs $600 a year, that’s nothing compared with the financial cost, and physical and emotional toll, of heart disease – which, according to the CDC Foundation, kills one in three Americans and accounts for most of the $320 billion dollars per year of health care and lost productivity costs in this country. It’s also largely preventable.

So, whether you decide to switch to a more active job or add more movement to the daily routine of your desk job, it definitely pays to make your health a priority. Although there are injuries and illnesses you can never entirely account for, if you work to stay healthy and active, you could help alleviate some of your future health care costs – which, according to Forbes, are likely to make up half of your retirement spending.

One final note when it comes to your money: Many Americans underestimate their retirement needs, and one major cause is underestimating how long they’ll actually live. If you’re engaged in an effort to lengthen your lifespan, don’t forget to account for that in your retirement planning.

What are some tips and tricks you use to stay healthy and active at work?

Sarah Graves
Sarah Graves, Ph.D. is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, parenting, education, and creative entrepreneurship. She's also a college instructor of English and humanities. When not busy writing or teaching her students the proper use of a semicolon, you can find her hanging out with her awesome husband and adorable son watching way too many superhero movies.

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