Unchecked Work Stress Can Hurt Your Heart

Coronary artery disease risk may be halved in frazzled workers with good lifestyle habits

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Unless you’re among that seeming handful of workers who keep their Zen-like attitude no matter what, routine workday stresses can leave you feeling undone.

Add smoking, bad diet, too much booze, too little exercise and other poor lifestyle choices to the pressures of being an employee—or a boss—and you could very well end up with heart disease.

But workers who minimize job strain by practicing healthy lifestyle habits can cut their chances of getting heart disease in half, a new study found.

"Ask a cardiologist about heart healthy living."

Mika Kivimäki, PhD, a University College London disease specialist, was lead author of a study of more than 102,000 European men and women who self-reported to researchers their job pressures and their dietary, exercise and other lifestyle habits between 1985 and 2000. Almost equal numbers of men and women were studied. The entire group's average age was 44.

Participants' answers were taken from seven previously done studies exploring the impact of lifestyle choices on employees dealing with workplace pressures. 

The researchers labeled smoking, obesity, heavy liquor consumption and not exercising as risk factors. Heavy drinking was defined as 21 or more alcoholic drinks per week for women and 28 or more per week for men.

Obese people were defined as having a body mass index of at least 30, which describes, as one example, a person standing 5-feet-4 inches tall and weighing 174 pounds. That index was either self-reported by survey participants or was directly measured by the researchers. 

The researchers rated those job-stressed study respondents either as healthy, which meant they had none of those risk factors; moderately unhealthy, or having one risk risk factor; or unhealthy, which meant having two to four risk factors.

All survey participants were diagnosed with healthy heart arteries when they were signed up for the studies, which lasted between 3.1 and 15.1 years. 

Coronary artery disease was highest among study participants who reported that they faced various kinds of psychological and social strain at work and also maintained an unhealthy lifestyle.

At total of 1,086 participants suffered a cardiac-related death or some other potentially serious coronary problem. That translated into 30.6 heart problems per 1,000 unhealthy job-stressed study participants versus 12 per 1,000 among study participants who reported job strain but a healthy lifestyle.

"[A] healthy lifestyle could substantially reduce the risk of coronary artery disease among people with job strain. In addition to stress counseling, [doctors] might consider paying closer attention to lifestyle risk factors in patients who report job strain," the researchers concluded.

This research was published May 13 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Several government research and private insurer groups funded the research.

Thirty-one of the 34 researchers reported no financial gain or investment that would influence the study design or outcome. Three reported receiving grants from or having other involvement with the British Heart Foundation or other private groups.

One researcher reported earning royalties on books topics related to heart health and/or job stress; and one reported being paid by a maker of a sound-absorbing material used to potential reduce workplace stress.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 12, 2013
Last Updated:
August 13, 2013