The new study's findings suggest a complex relationship between work and exercise.
Previously, research has suggested that less educated groups of people - such as people who do not have high school degrees - are more likely to be engaged in occupational physical activity at their jobs.
Investigating what the implications are for the relationship of level of education and physical activity in both leisure and work time, the University of Kansas (KU) researchers examined accelerometer data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
The accelerometer data in NHANES measured how many steps American adults take per day and the intensity of those steps. By taking intensity into account, the researchers say they were able to determine how much sedentary, moderate or vigorous activity the participants engaged in.
They present their findings at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.
The study found that, on average, people with a college degree are more active on weekends than on a weekday. People without a high school degree, however, are more active on weekdays than at weekends.
On average, the number of hours per day the participants spent engaged in sedentary activity at the weekend were 8.12 for people with a college degree and 7.86 for people without a high school degree.
Although these results show that college graduates spent, on average, more time engaged in sedentary activity at the weekend than people without a high school degree, the college graduates were still less sedentary at the weekend than they were in the week, and the less educated group were spending more time in sedentary activity at the weekend than in the week.
The findings suggest a complex relationship between work and exercise.
Fewer opportunities to exercise? Class norms and body image expectations?
Medical News Today asked lead author Jarron M. Saint Onge, a KU assistant professor of sociology, what the explanations behind the study's findings may be.
"There are a few possible explanations," he replied. "Those with lower education may have fewer opportunities to exercise on the weekends, due to additional demands (child rearing, extra jobs) or less safe environments, fewer exercise facilities or walking infrastructure.
"It may be based on class norms and expectations related to body image and exercise, such that higher educated people may feel pressured to have lower body mass or engage in certain activities such as running," he adds.
"It is also possible that the advantage of a higher educated, sedentary occupation may be linked to less overall exhaustion and lead to a heightened concern for meeting activity criteria during free time, such as weekends. Whereas higher levels of occupational physical activity may lead to physical exhaustion or perceptions that workplace activity replaces the need to exercise during leisure time, even though much of this weekday activity occurs at fairly low levels."
Prof. Jarron and team believe that examining the intensity of average levels of physical activity - rather than simply total time of physical activity - will increase understanding of the factors that influence sedentary behaviors.
This improved understanding, the researchers argue, can inform interventions and "potentially reduce socioeconomic status differences in preventable morbidity and mortality."
Recent findings from studies reported by Medical News Today also suggest that smokers with low education may be at greater risk of stroke, that higher education levels are linked to increased nearsightedness, and that lower education is linked to better recovery from traumatic brain injury.