The impact of health risks on absence from work and productivity

Lack of exercise linked to raised illness-related absence

Relationship between frequency of aerobic activity and illness-related absenteeism in a large employee sample. Jacobson BH, Aldana SG. J Occup Environ Med. 2001. 43: 1019-1025.


To investigate the relationship between habitual physical activity levels and yearly rates of sickness-related absence from work.

Looked at

79,070 employees in the US who completed a health and lifestyle questionnaire, which included questions on physical activity.


Type, duration and frequency of physical activity were compared with self-reported workdays missed because of illness in the previous 12 months.


  • Annual sickness absence was lower for those with higher recorded levels of physical activity than for those who did less exercise.
  • The most marked difference was observed between those who did no activity and those who did one day of activity per week; non-exercisers had 46% greater absence rates than those who exercised once a week.
  • Further, nonexercisers were 51% more likely to be absent for seven days a year or more than those reporting two days of exercise per week, and 30% more likely than those reporting activity one day a week.

What does this mean?

Strategies to promote physical activity could reduce the rates of absence due to illness, and in turn reduce costs that relate to absenteeism.