A total of 13 to 14% of European and North American workers are involved in shift work. The present aim is to explore the relationships between coping strategies adopted by shift workers and their leisure-time energy expenditure. Twenty-four female and 71 male shift workers (mean +/- SD age: 37 +/- 9 years) completed an adapted version of the Standard Shift-work Index (SSI), together with a leisure-time physical activity questionnaire. Predictors of age, time spent in shift work, gender, marital status and the various shift-work coping indices were explored with step-wise multiple regression. Leisure-time energy expenditure over a 14-d period was entered as the outcome variable. Gender (beta = 7168.9 kJ/week, p = 0.023) and time spent in shift work (beta = 26.36 kJ/week, p = 0.051) were found to be predictors of energy expenditure, with the most experienced, male shift workers expending the most energy during leisure-time. Overall 'disengagement' coping scores from the SSI were positively related to leisure-time energy expenditure (beta = 956.27 kJ/week, p = 0.054). In males, disengagement of sleep problems (beta = -1078.1 kJ/week, p = 0.086) was found to be negatively correlated to energy expenditure, whereas disengagement of domestic-related problems was found to be positively related to energy expenditure (beta = 1961.92 kJ/week, p = 0.001). These relations were not found in female shift workers (p = 0.762). These data suggest that experienced male shift workers participate in the most leisure-time physical activity. These people 'disengage' more from their domestic-related problems, but less from their sleep-related problems. It is recommended that physical activity interventions for shift workers should be designed with careful consideration of individual domestic responsibilities and perceived disruption to sleep.