Effects of Physical Exercise Training in the Workplace on Physical Fitness: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

  • Olaf PrieskeEmail author
  • Tina Dalager
  • Michael Herz
  • Tibor Hortobagyi
  • Gisela Sjøgaard
  • Karen Søgaard
  • Urs Granacher
Systematic Review



There is evidence that physical exercise training (PET) conducted at the workplace is effective in improving physical fitness and thus health. However, there is no current systematic review available that provides high-level evidence regarding the effects of PET on physical fitness in the workforce.


To quantify sex-, age-, and occupation type-specific effects of PET on physical fitness and to characterize dose–response relationships of PET modalities that could maximize gains in physical fitness in the working population.

Data Sources

A computerized systematic literature search was conducted in the databases PubMed and Cochrane Library (2000–2019) to identify articles related to PET in workers.

Study Eligibility Criteria

Only randomized controlled trials with a passive control group were included if they investigated the effects of PET programs in workers and tested at least one fitness measure.

Study Appraisal and Synthesis Methods

Weighted mean standardised mean differences (SMDwm) were calculated using random effects models. A multivariate random effects meta-regression was computed to explain the influence of key training modalities (e.g., training frequency, session duration, intensity) on the effectiveness of PET on measures of physical fitness. Further, subgroup univariate analyses were computed for each training modality. Additionally, methodological quality of the included studies was rated with the help of the Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro) Scale.


Overall, 3423 workers aged 30–56 years participated in 17 studies (19 articles) that were eligible for inclusion. Methodological quality of the included studies was moderate with a median PEDro score of 6. Our analyses revealed significant, small-sized effects of PET on cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), muscular endurance, and muscle power (0.29 ≤ SMDwm ≤ 0.48). Medium effects were found for CRF and muscular endurance in younger workers (≤ 45 years) (SMDwm = 0.71) and white-collar workers (SMDwm = 0.60), respectively. Multivariate random effects meta-regression for CRF revealed that none of the examined training modalities predicted the effects of PET on CRF (R2 = 0). Independently computed subgroup analyses showed significant PET effects on CRF when conducted for 9–12 weeks (SMDwm = 0.31) and for 17–20 weeks (SMDwm = 0.74).


PET effects on physical fitness in healthy workers are moderated by age (CRF) and occupation type (muscular endurance). Further, independently computed subgroup analyses indicated that the training period of the PET programs may play an important role in improving CRF in workers.


Author contributions

OP, TD, KS, and UG: made substantial contributions to conception and design; OP, TD, and MH: contributed to data collection; OP, TD, and MH: carried out data analysis and interpretation together with TH, GS, KS, and UG; OP: wrote the first draft of the manuscript and all authors were involved in revising it critically for important intellectual content; All authors gave final approval of the version to be published and agreed to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


The authors would like to thank the health insurance company AOK Nordost, Germany, and the Commission for Research and Young Researchers (FNK) of the University of Potsdam for financial support during the study. No other sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this article.

Conflict of interest

Olaf Prieske, Tina Dalager, Michael Herz, Tibor Hortobágyi, Gisela Sjøgaard, Karen Søgaard and Urs Granacher declare that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this review.

Data availability

The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Supplementary material

40279_2019_1179_MOESM1_ESM.docx (54 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 53 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Applied Sciences for Sports and Management PotsdamPotsdamGermany
  2. 2.Division of Training and Movement Sciences, Research Focus Cognitive SciencesUniversity of PotsdamPotsdamGermany
  3. 3.Department of Sports Science and Clinical BiomechanicsUniversity of Southern DenmarkOdenseDenmark
  4. 4.Center for Human Movement Sciences, University Medical Center GroningenUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

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